Background: Immune complexing of target antigen to high affinity host antibody is recognized to impact the sensitivity of commercial heartworm antigen tests. Published information describing the effect of heat on interfering canine host antibodies is lacking. Immune complex dissociation (ICD) by heat treatment of serum for samples initially testing negative for heartworm antigen increases sensitivity of commercial antigen tests, particularly for single sex or low adult infection intensities. In this study the stability and nature of the targeted epitope and mechanism of heat ICD were examined.
Methods: Canine IgG was isolated using protein-A columns from serum originating from four dogs evaluated after necropsy: one dog with evidence of previously cleared infection and three dogs with confirmed heartworm infections. These dogs were expected to have an excess of antibodies based on negative antigen test and to have no or low antigen optical density, respectively, following heat treatment. Interference of antigen detection on (non-heated) positive serum was evaluated, following 1:1 mixing of antibody/PBS solutions previously heated at 25 °C, 65 °C, 75 °C, 85 °C, 95 °C and 104 °C, compared to positive serum/PBS control measured by optical density using a commercial heartworm antigen ELISA and protein quantification. Live heartworms incubated in media for 72 h provided excretory/secretory antigen for antigen stability studies following heat, endopeptidase digestion and disulfide bond reduction.
Results: Mixing antigen-positive heartworm serum with antibody solutions demonstrated a significant inhibition of antigen detection for antibody solutions previously heated at 25 °C and 65 °C relative to positive serum/PBS control. Antigen detection optical density was restored at or above the control when positive serum was mixed with solutions previously heated at 75 °C, 85 °C, 95 °C and 104 °C. Significant changes occurred in protein levels for antibody solutions heated at 75 °C, 85 °C, 95 °C and 104 °C. Relative stability of antigen from live heartworms in culture was demonstrated following heat, chemical and enzymatic treatment.
Conclusions: Significant changes in protein levels and antigen binding ability occurred in IgG solutions heated above 65 °C. The findings confirm heat denaturation of antibodies as the suspected mechanism of heat ICD at 104 °C for antigen diagnosis of heartworm. No significant change occurred in antigen detection following heat, chemical or enzymatic digestions supporting a heat-stable linear nature of the epitope.
Keywords: Antibody; Antigen; Canine heartworm; Dirofilaria immitis; Heartworm; Heat treatment; Immune complex; Immune complex dissociation; Immunodiagnosis; Linear Epitope.
© 2023. The Author(s).