Serodiagnosis of staphylococcal sepsis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The coagulase-negative staphylococci are the most frequent cause of sepsis associated with indwelling intravascular catheters. Current microbiological investigations to support the diagnosis of catheter-related sepsis (CRS) include the culture of blood and catheter tips, however positive results may reflect specimen contamination, or colonisation of the catheter rather than true sepsis. Previous serological approaches to assist in the diagnosis of CRS based on cellular staphylococcal antigens have been of limited value. In this current study, the serodiagnostic potential of an exocellular antigen produced by 7 strains of coagulase-negative staphylococci cultured in brain heart infusion broth was investigated. Antigenic material isolated by gel permeation from liquid culture was characterised by immunological techniques and chemical analysis. Characterisation of the exocellular antigen revealed a novel glycerophosphoglycolipid, termed lipid S. which shared antigenic determinants with lipoteichoic acid, but differed by comprising a glycerophosphate chain length of only 6 units. In addition, lipid S was immunologically distinct from diphosphatidyl glycerol, a constituent cell membrane phospho lipid. An indirect enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) based on lipid S was subsequently developed and used to determine serum antibody levels (IgM and IgG) in 67 patients with CRS due to staphylococci, and 67 patients with a central venous catheter (CVC) in situ who exhibited no evidence of sepsis. The sensitivity and specificity of the lipid S IgG ELISA was 75% and 90% respectively whilst the IgM assay had sensitivity and specificity of 52% and 85%. The addition of GullSORereagent to the EL1SA procedure to remove competing serum IgG and rheumatoid factor did not significantly improve the performance of the IgM assay. The serological response in serial serum samples of 13 patients with CRS due to staphylococci was investigated. Elevated levels of antibody were detected at an early stage of infection, prior to the isolation of microorganisms by standard culture methods, and before the clinical presentation of sepsis in 3 patients. The lipid S ELISA was later optimised and a rapid 4-hour assay developed for the serodiagnosis of CRS. Serum IgG levels were determined in 40 patients with CRS due to staphylococci and 40 patients with a CVC in situ who exhibited no evidence of sepsis. The sensitivity and specificity of the rapid IgG assay was 70% and 100% respectively. Elevated serum antibody levels in patients with endocarditis, prosthetic joint infection and pyogenic spondylodiscitis due to Gram-positive cocci were also detected with the lipid S ELISA suggesting that the assay may facilitate the diagnosis of these infections. Unexpected increased levels of anti-lipid S IgG in 31% of control patients with sciatica suggested a possible microbial aetiology of this condition. Further investigation of some of these patients by culture of microdiscectomy tissue removed at operation, revealed the presence of low-virulent microorganisms in 37% of patients of which Propionibacterium aeries accounted for 85% of the positive culture isolates. The results suggested a previously unrecognised association between P. acnes and sciatica, which may have implications for the future management of the condition.
Date of Award2000
Original languageEnglish


  • Serodiagnosis
  • staphylococcal sepsis

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