Indexed on: 09 Nov '17Published on: 09 Nov '17Published in: Emerging Microbes & Infections
Detection of antibodies is widely used for the diagnosis of infections with arthropod-borne flaviviruses including dengue (DENV) and Zika virus (ZIKV). Due to the emergence of ZIKV in areas endemic for DENV, massive co-circulation is observed and methods to specifically diagnose these infections and differentiate them from each other are mandatory. However, serological assays for flaviviruses in general, and for DENV and ZIKV in particular, are compromised by the high degree of similarities in their proteins which can lead to cross-reacting antibodies and false-positive test results. Cross-reacting flavivirus antibodies mainly target the highly conserved fusion loop (FL) domain in the viral envelope (E-) protein, and we and others have shown previously that recombinant E-proteins bearing FL-mutations strongly reduce cross-reactivity. Here we investigate whether such mutant E-proteins can be used to specifically detect antibodies against DENV and ZIKV in an ELISA-format. IgM antibodies against DENV and ZIKV virus were detected with 100% and 94.2% specificity and 90.7% and 87.5% sensitivity, respectively. For IgG the mutant E-proteins showed cross-reactivity, which was overcome by pre-incubation of the sera with the heterologous antigen. This resulted in specificities of 97.1% and 97.9% and in sensitivities of 100% and 100% for the DENV and ZIKV antigens, respectively. Our results suggest that E-proteins bearing mutations in the FL-domain have a high potential for the development of serological DENV and ZIKV tests with high specificity.