A combination of culture and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification was employed to detect Borrelia burgdorferi in in vitro cultures of skin biopsy specimens. Spirochetes were observed by microscopic examination in 56% (20/36) of the cultures from patients with erythema migrans who had not received prior antibiotic treatment. No growth of Borrelia burgdorferi was detected in control cultures or those from patients who had received antibiotics. PCR analysis of culture supernatants agreed with microscopic evaluation in 50/51 evaluable cultures tested (both positive and negative). At two weeks of incubation Borrelia burgdorferi could be detected by PCR in 19/20 cultures (95%) compared to 14/20 (70%) by visual inspection. This study indicates that a combined culture-PCR test for detection of Borrelia burgdorferi is more rapid and specific than culture alone.