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Summary

A total of 227 field samples from naturally exposed foals aged between 3 weeks and 6 months were used in an evaluation of a peptide-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for diagnosis of Rhodococcus equi infection. A biotinylated peptide derived from the virulence-associated protein A (VapA) of R. equi, a horse pathogen, was synthesized and designated as PN11-14. The peptide corresponds to the N-terminal B-cell epitope TSLNLQKDEPNGRASDTAGQ of the VapA protein. Based upon a serum immunoglobulin (Ig)G titre of 512 as a positive cut-off value for the R. equi infection, the ELISA provided the overall sensitivity of 47.62%, specificity of 69.67% and an accuracy of 59.47% with a positive predictive value of 57.47% for true R. equi pneumonia. The assay was improved by detecting VapA-specific IgGb antibodies against N-terminal B-cell epitope of the VapA protein rather than IgG antibodies. The VapA-IgGb ELISA showed the overall sensitivity of 70.47%, specificity of 72.13% and accuracy of 71.36% with a positive predictive value of 68.52%. Diagnosis of R. equi disease in 6-week-old foals showed that the VapA-IgGb ELISA provided an increasing trend (P = 0.0572) in sensitivity of 82.4% in comparison with the VapA-IgG ELISA which showed the sensitivity of 58.8%. However, differences in specificity of both tests were statistically insignificant (P = 0.357) as analysed by the McNemar test. These results indicated that detection of VapA-specific IgGb antibodies may be a better predictor of R. equi disease in foals.