Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to measure antibodies to purified heat-labile enterotoxins from human and porcine strains of Escherichia coli and to cholera toxin: Application in serodiagnosis and seroepidemiology

M. M. Levine, C. R. Young, R. E. Black, Y. Takeda, R. A. Finkelstein

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Serum immunoglobulin G antibodies to purified heat-labile enterotoxin (LT) from human (LTh) and porcine (LTp) Escherichia coli strains and cholera enterotoxin (CT) were measured by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Sera from patients with LTh E. coli infection showed a prominent response with LTh, an intermediate response with LTp, and a meager response with CT. Of 47 persons with clinical LTh-producing E. coli (herein shortened to LTh E. coli) infections, significant rises in antitoxin were detected against LTh in 36 (77%), against LTp in 30 (64%), and against CT in only 13 (28%) patients; seroconversions also occurred in 11 of 14 (79%) patients with subclinical LTh E. coli infections. In North Americans with experimental LTh E. coli infection, anti-Lth did not remain at high levels for more than 3 months. Persons with cholera manifested antitoxin responses that were similarly potent against all three toxin antigens; in fact, net optical density values were often slightly higher against LTh than against CT. The ratio of CT/LTh ELISA net optical density in convalescent sera proved to be a sensitive means to differentiate LT E. coli from cholera infection. All 11 cholera patients tested had CT/LTh ratios of > 0.70, whereas in only 1 of 47 LTh E. coli infections did the ratio exceed that value (it was 0.71) (P < 0.0000000001). In single serum specimens, a net optical density of ≥ 0.30 against LTh was shown to be a useful cutoff in screening sera for recent LTh E. coli or past cholera infection. The CT/LTh ratio was then used to differentiate definitively. Sera from healthy 3- to 5-year-olds and 15- to 19-year-olds in Maryland, Chile, and Bangladesh were tested against LTh and CT. The serological results fit known epidemiological observations. (i) LTh infections are rare in the United States (only 2 of 60 sera had LTh net optical density values of ≥ 0.30. (ii) In contrast, evidence of recent LTh E. coli infections was very common in Chilean (69%) and Bangladeshi (57%) 3- to 5-year-olds and not uncommon in 15- to 19-year-olds (38 and 31%, respectively) in those countries. (iii) Only Bangladeshi sera showed serological evidence of cholera infections (CT/LTh ratios of > 0.70). The immunoglobulin G enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay measuring antibodies to purified LTh and CT represents a practical and effective tool for the serological study of LTh E. coli and cholera diarrheal infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-179
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of clinical microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 4 1985
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)

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