Wild canids and domestic dogs are the main reservoir of zoonotic visceral leishmaniasis (VL) caused by Leishmania infantum (syn.: Leishmania chagasi). Serological diagnosis of VL is therefore important in both human and dog leishmaniasis from a clinical and epidemiological point of view. Routine diagnosis of VL is traditionally carried out by immunofluorescent antibody test (IFAT), which is laborious and difficult to standardize and to interpret. In the last decade, however, several specific antigens of Leishmania infantum have been characterized, allowing the development of a recombinant-based immunoassay. Among them, the whole open reading frame encoding K9 antigen, the gene fragment encoding the repetitive sequence of K26, and the 3'-terminal gene fragment of the kinesin-related protein (K39sub) were previously evaluated as diagnostic markers for canine leishmaniasis and proved to be independent in their antibody reactivity. Since sensitivity of serological test is usually higher in multiple-epitope format, in this study the relevant epitopes of K9, K26, and K39 antigens were joined by PCR strategy to produce the chimeric recombinant protein. The resulting mosaic antigen was found highly expressed in Escherichia coli and efficiently purified by affinity chromatography. Antigenic properties of this recombinant antigen were evaluated by indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) using a panel of human and dog sera previously characterized by parasitological and/or serological techniques. Chimeric ELISA showed 99% specificity in both human (n = 180) and canine (n = 343) control groups, while sensitivity was higher in canine VL (96%, n = 213) than in human VL (82%, n = 185). Accordingly, concordance between IFAT and canine chimeric ELISA (k = 0.95, 95% confidence interval = 0.93 to 0.98) was higher than between IFAT and human chimeric ELISA (k = 0.81, 95% confidence interval = 0.76 to 0.87). Results suggest the potential use of this new antigen for routine serodiagnosis of VL in both human and canine hosts.
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