Recombinant baculovirus techniques were used to express the 260 amino acid carboxyterminal portion of the 32 kilodalton (kDa) major antigenic protein (MAP 1) of Cowdria ruminantium, the heartwater agent, as a fusion protein. The recombinant MAP 1 was fused to an aminoterminal independently antigenic octapeptide sequence (FLAG® peptide). Recombinant MAP 1 was used as an immunoblotting antigen to evaluate numerous reference antisera against organisms of the tribe Ehrlichieae. Monoclonal and polyclonal C. ruminantium antibodies, monoclonal anti-FLAG® ascites, and antisera to Ehrlichia canis and Ehrlichia chaffeensis reacted with this antigen. Twelve of 79 sera collected 1980 to 1992 from southeastern U.S. white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were also unexpectedly immunoblot-positive to MAP 1. These 12 deer sera had, as a group, significantly (P <0.01) greater anti-E. chaffeensis titers (previously determined) than the sera from MAP 1 immunoblot-negative deer living in the same areas. None of the 262 sera from cattle living in the same areas were immunoblot-positive to MAP 1. All of an additional 50 cervine sera from Michigan (USA), 72 bovine sera from northern U.S. cattle, and 72 sera from Puerto Rican cattle were also immunoblot-negative to MAP 1. Sera from African sheep which were falsely seropositive to authentic MAP 1 were also immunoblot-positive to the recombinant MAP 1. Unidentified Ehrlichia spp. capable of serologic crossreactivity with the heartwater agent appear to be present in some southeastern U.S. white-tailed deer but not cattle. These or related Ehrlichia spp. may also be found elsewhere in the world in non-cervine species.
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