The isolation of Borrelia burgdorferi flagella and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for detection of immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgM to the B. burgdorferi flagellum are described. The diagnostic performance of the flagellum ELISA for serodiagnosis of Lyme disease was compared with the performance of a traditional whole cell B. burgdorferi sonic extract ELISA. We examined sera and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from 56 patients with lymphocytic meningoradiculitis (Bannwarth's syndrome), the most frequent secondary-stage manifestation of Lyme disease in Europe. Two hundred healthy individuals and patients with aseptic meningitis, encephalitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and syphilis served as controls. The flagellum ELISA was significantly more sensitive than the sonic extract ELISA. The diagnostic sensitivities were increased from 41.1 to 76.8% (P less than 0.01) for IgG and from 35.7 to 67.9% (P less than 0.05) for IgM detection in serum. The increase in sensitivity was most pronounced in patients with a short duration of disease (less than 20 days after onset). The diagnostic specificity increased for IgG detection but was almost unaltered for IgM. The flagellum ELISA did not improve the diagnostic sensitivity of measuring antibodies to borreliae in CSF, most likely owing to the low level of unspecific antibodies in CSF compared with serum. The cross-reactivity of sera and CSF from patients with syphilis decreased significantly. The flagellum antigen of B. burgdorferi shows no strain variation, is easy to purify in sufficient quantity, and is therefore a suitable reference antigen for routine serodiagnosis of Lyme disease.