The value of IgM detection for the early diagnosis of an active cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection in renal transplant recipients was evaluated prospectively. Sequential serum samples obtained from 22 allograft recipients with active CMV infection were tested for the presence of CMV-specific immunoglobulin M antibodies (IgM) by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and a microparticle enzyme immunoassay (MEIA) and were compared with the Western-immunoblotting technique (IB). The time course of CMV IgM antibody detection was evaluated in relation to the shell vial assay (SVA), CMV disease, and immunosuppressive regimen. By IB, IgM antibodies against the capsid protein ppUL80a and the basic matrix phosphoprotein ppUL32 were detected in all 22 recipients with active CMV infection. Using the MEIA and the ELISA, the presence of CMV IgM antibodies was detected in 17 (77%) and ten (46%) of these 22 recipients, respectively. The SVA was the earliest parameter for detection of primary CMV infection in seven of nine (78%) recipients, in contrast to two of 13 (15%) patients with recurrent CMV infection (P < .05). The detection of IgM antibodies by IB was the earliest parameter for detection of recurrent CMV infection in seven out of 13 (54%) recipients in contrast to one out of nine (11%) patients with primary CMV infection (P < .05). During a primary CMV infection, the development of an abundant IgM antibody response was associated with recovery from CMV disease and the end of the viremic phase.