The Wassermann test
is a complement-fixation
test for syphilis
, named after the bacteriologist August von Wassermann
A sample of blood
or cerebrospinal fluid
is taken and introduced to the antigen - cardiolipin
extracted from bovine muscle or heart. Syphilis-specific antibodies (reagines) react with the lipid
- the Wassermann reaction of antiphospholipid antibodies
(APAs). The intensity of the reaction (1, 2, 3, or 4) indicates the severity of the condition.
The reaction is not actually specific to syphilis and will produce a positive reaction to other diseases, including malaria
, and numerous other diseases. It is possible for an infected individual to produce no reaction and for a successfully treated individual to continue to produce a reaction (called Wassermann fast or fixed).
Development and refinement
The antibody test was developed by Wassermann, Julius Citron, and Albert Neisser
at the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases
in 1906. The test was a growth from the work of Bordet
on complementing-fixation reaction, published in 1901, and the positive reaction is sometimes called the Bordet-Gengou-Wassermann reaction or Bordet-Wassermann reaction.
The Wassermann test has been refined - Kahn test, Kolmer test - and it is rarely used today. Replacement tests (VDRL test, RPR test), initially based on flocculation techniques (Hinton), have been shown to produce far fewer false positive results. Indeed the "biologic false positives" of modern tests usually indicate a serious alternate condition, often an autoimmune disease.
Citron, Dr. Julius, Immunity (English translation) 1914 163-164