Comparative study of rK39 Leishmania antigen for serodiagnosis of visceral leishmaniasis: systematic review with meta-analysis

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2012 Jan;6(1):e1484. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001484. Epub 2012 Jan 31.


Background: The rK39 recombinant protein is derived from a specific antigen produced by the Leishmania donovani complex, and has been used in the last two decades for the serodiagnosis of visceral leishmaniasis. We present here a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies evaluating serologic assays to diagnose visceral leishmaniasis to determine the accuracy of rK39 antigen in comparison to the use of other antigen preparations.

Methodology/principal findings: A systematic review with meta-analysis of the literature was performed to compare the rK39 strip-test and ELISA formats against serological tests using promastigote antigens derived from whole or soluble parasites for Direct Aglutination Test (DAT), Indirect Immunofluorescence test (IFAT) and ELISA with a promastigote antigen preparation (p-ELISA). Gold standard diagnosis was defined by the demonstration of amastigotes on hematological specimens. A database search was performed on Medline, Lilacs, Scopus, Isi Web of Science, and Cochrane Library. Quality of data was assessed using the QUADAS questionnaire. A search of the electronic databases found 352 papers of which only 14 fulfilled the selection criteria. Three evaluated the rK39 ELISA, while 13 evaluated the rK39 immunochromatographic strip test. The summarized sensitivity for the rK39-ELISA was 92% followed by IFAT 88% and p-ELISA 87%. The summarized specificity for the three diagnostic tests was 81%, 90%, and 77%. Studies comparing the rK39 strip test with DAT found a similar sensitivity of 94%, although the DAT had a slightly higher specificity. The rK39 strip test was more sensitive and specific than the IFAT and p-ELISA. We did not detect any difference in the sensitivity and specificity between strips produced by different manufacturers.

Conclusions: The rK39 protein used either in a strip test or in an ELISA, and the DAT are the best choices for implementation of rapid, easy and efficient test for serodiagnosis of VL.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Protozoan* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / diagnosis*
  • Parasitology / methods*
  • Protozoan Proteins* / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serologic Tests / methods


  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • K39 antigen, Leishmania