Preabsorption of cattle serum with Mycobacterium phlei was of value in eliminating falsely positive reactions in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the detection of antibodies against M paratuberculosis. Specific antibody titres from 16 animals naturally infected with M paratuberculosis were unaffected by absorption. Analysis by Western blotting indicated that a different set of antigens of M paratuberculosis were recognised by serum from falsely positive reactors compared with that from animals with established infection. After experimental infection the time required for seroconversion in the ELISA in nine calves lay between 10 and 28 months, although one animal had not seroconverted after 30 months when the experiment ended. All animals shed M paratuberculosis in their faeces before seroconversion.