Trypsin treatment of Leishmania promastigote antigen has proved to be indispensible in the direct agglutination test (DAT) for the diagnosis of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) and canine visceral leishmaniasis (CVL). In the present study four antigen batches were prepared with pronase (400 micrograms/ml), lipase (0.45% [wt/vol]), pancreatin (0.3% [wt/vol]), or 2-mercaptoethanol (2-ME) (1.2% [vol/vol]) at a ratio of 20:1 versus promastigote packed cell volume or a density of 10(8)/ml. Batches prepared in this way performed satisfactorily when compared with the performance of the initial trypsinated antigen. Even higher was the sensitivity and specificity of the 2-ME-processed antigen, scoring a minimum DAT titer of 1:102,400 in the VL and CVL group and a maximum of 1:400 in the negative control group. Corresponding titers ranging from 1:6,400 to 1:12,800 and 1:800 to 1:1,600 were obtained with the antigen variants processed with pronase, lipase, pancreatin, or trypsin. By combining the use of indigenous Leishmania donovani subspecies from Sudan, Bangladesh, or Morocco and incorporating 2-ME instead of trypsin in the antigen processing step, a threefold increase in titer was attained in sera from the respective areas where VL is endemic. 2-ME-processed antigen suspensions maintained stability at 4 degrees C for up to 9 months, as evidenced by the absence of autoagglutination and the reproducibility of DAT readings with standard sera. The specificity of DAT was further improved by supplementation of the sample diluent with 0.03 M urea and incubation of the test plates at 37 degrees C for 1 h. Titers ranging from 1:200 to 1:12,800 in the sera of patients and laboratory animals infected with various trypanosoma species were significantly reduce (</=1:200) or were rendered negative dilution of 1:25. Regardless of the infections caused by trypanosoma species, the sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value of a positive or negative test in DAT were 100%. Sera from patients who formerly had VL and who had been treated 6 to 36 months earlier remained reactive (>/=1:51,200) against 2-ME-processed antigen, despite the incorporation of urea into the DAT.