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An ELISA Using Synthetic Mycolic Acid-Based Antigens with DIVA Potential for Diagnosing Johne’s Disease in Cattle

Published: 2024


  • Paul S. Mason

  • Thomas Holder

  • Natasha Robinson

  • Brendan Smith

  • Rwoa’a T. Hameed

  • Juma’a R. Al Dulayymi

  • Valerie Hughes

  • Karen Stevenson

  • Gareth J. Jones

  • H. Martin Vordermeier

  • Shawn Mc Kenna

  • Mark S. Baird

Is Part of:

Animals, 14, 6, 848


The problem:

Ante-mortem diagnosis of Johne’s disease, caused by Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), is normally achieved through faecal culture, PCR, or serological tests, but agreement as to which samples are positive for Johne’s disease is often poor and sensitivities are low, particularly in early-stage infections.

The potential solution:

Mycobacterial cells contain very complex characteristic mixtures of mycolic acid derivatives that elicit antibodies during infection; this has been used to detect infections in humans. Here, we explore its application in providing an assay differentiating infected from vaccinated animals (DIVA assay) for Johne’s disease in cattle.


Antibody responses to different classes of mycolic acid derivatives were measured using ELISA for serum from cattle positive for MAP by both faecal PCR and commercial serum ELISA, or just by PCR, and from animals from herds with no history of Johne’s disease, bovine tuberculosis reactors, BCG-vaccinated, BCG-vaccinated and M. bovis-infected, and Gudair-vaccinated animals.


The best-performing antigens, ZAM295 and ST123—the latter a molecule present in the cells of MAP but not of Mycobacterium bovis—achieved a sensitivity of 75% and 62.5%, respectively, for serum from animals positive by both faecal PCR and a commercial MAP serum ELISA, at a specificity of 94% compared to 80 no-history negatives. Combining the results of separate assays with two antigens (ST123 and JRRR121) increased the sensitivity/specificity to 75/97.5%. At the same cut-offs, animals vaccinated with Gudair or BCG vaccines and bTB reactors showed a similar specificity. The specificity in BCG-vaccinated but M. bovis-infected animals dropped to 85%. Combining the results of two antigens gave a sensitivity/specificity of 37.5/97.5% for the full set of 80 PCR-positive samples, detecting 30 positives compared 16 for IDEXX.


Serum ELISA using synthetic lipids distinguishes effectively between MAP-negative cattle samples and those positive by both PCR and a commercial MAP serodiagnostic, without interference by Gudair or BCG vaccination. It identified almost twice as many PCR positives as the commercial serodiagnostic, offering the possibility of earlier detection of infection.

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