Accuracy of IgM immunoblotting to confirm the clinical diagnosis of early Lyme disease

Arch Intern Med. 1996 Oct 14;156(18):2105-9.


Background: A 2-test approach for the serologic diagnosis of Lyme disease has recently been proposed. A positive or equivocal result on a first-stage test (eg, an enzyme immunoassay) is followed by a Western immunoblot test. For a sample to be considered seropositive for Lyme disease, the immunoblot result must be positive.

Objectives: To assess the accuracy of IgM immunoblotting for detection of early Lyme disease and to establish interpretative criteria for a commercially available immunoblot assay.

Methods: Serum samples from 44 patients with erythema migrans were tested by an IgM immunoblot assay. All patients were culture-positive for Borrelia burgdorferi. Serum samples from 2 different control groups were also tested. Interpretative criteria were developed using receiver operating characteristic curves.

Results: The presence of any 2 IgM bands was found to be the optimal criterion for a positive test result, and in patients with illness of less than 7 days' duration, this was significantly more sensitive than the criterion of any 2 of the 3 specific bands defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Association of State and Territorial Public Health Laboratory Directors Lyme Disease Workgroup (P < .05). Specificity of the criterion of any 2 bands was 100% for 1 group of controls but only 96% for the more clinically relevant control group; this small difference had a large impact on the positive predictive value in populations at low risk for Lyme disease.

Conclusions: Using a commercially available immunoblot test kit, the presence of any 2 IgM bands is proposed as a positive result. The predictive value of a positive IgM immunoblot result, however, is poor in patients with minimal clinical evidence for Lyme disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting*
  • Immunoglobulin M / analysis*
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • ROC Curve
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Immunoglobulin M