Detection and Monitoring of Mycobacterium leprae Infection in Nine Banded Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) Using a Quantitative Rapid Test.
Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by with tropism for skin and peripheral nerves. Incessant transmission in endemic areas is still impeding elimination of leprosy. Although detection of infection remains a challenge in asymptomatic individuals, the presence of antibodies specific for phenolglycolipid-I (PGL-I) correlate with bacterial load. Therefore, serosurveillance utilizing field-friendly tests detecting anti-PGL-I antibodies, can be applied to identify those who may transmit bacteria and to study (reduction of) transmission. However, serology based on antibody detection cannot discriminate between past and present infection in humans, nor can it detect individuals carrying low bacillary loads. In humans, anti-PGL-I IgM levels are long-lasting and usually detected in more individuals than anti-PGL-I IgG levels. Inherent to the characteristically long incubation time of leprosy, IgM/IgG relations (antibody kinetics) in leprosy patients and infected individuals are not completely clear. To investigate the antibody response directly after infection, we have measured antibody levels by ELISA, in longitudinal samples of experimentally infected, susceptible nine-banded armadillos (). In addition, we assessed the user- and field-friendly, low-cost lateral flow assay (LFA) utilizing upconverting reporter particles (UCP), developed for quantitative detection of human anti-PGL-I IgM (UCP-LFA), to detect treatment- or vaccination-induced changes in viable bacterial load. Our results show that serum levels of anti-PGL-I IgM, and to a lesser extent IgG, significantly increase soon after experimental infection in armadillos. In view of leprosy phenotypes in armadillos, this animal model can provide useful insight into antibody kinetics in early infection in the various spectral forms of human leprosy. The UCP-LFA for quantitative detection of anti-PGL-I IgM allows monitoring the efficacy of vaccination and rifampin-treatment in the armadillo leprosy model, thereby providing a convenient tool to evaluate the effects of drugs and vaccines and new diagnostics.