Rapid diagnosis for differentiation of leptospirosis from other pyrogenic infections prevailing in the same locality is imperative for proper treatment. During infection, the pathogenic Leptospira spp. express virulence factors which induce antibody responses in the infected host. In this study, 50 referenced Leptospira spp. belonging to six genomospecies and 10 L. interrogans clinical isolates were studied for the presence of a gene encoding an in vivo expressed, surface exposed, immunoglobulin-like protein, LigA, by using PCR and southern hybridization specific to the 5' terminus sequence of the DNA. LigA was also detected in the Leptospira spp. whole cell homogenates by a direct ELISA using a mouse antiserum to the C-terminal portion of recombinant LigA (cLigA) as a detection reagent. All pathogenic Leptospira spp. except one of the two strains of L. santorasai were positive for the gene and its phenotype while all of the L. borgpetersenii and L. biflexa strains were negative. Recombinant cLigA was used as an antigen in ELISAs for detecting IgM and IgG in the sera of leptospirosis patients and in the sera of patients with other febrile illnesses and healthy subjects. When acute phase sera were tested by the cLigA IgM- and IgG-ELISAs, 92% and 100% of the MAT-positive sera were positive, respectively. The diagnostic sensitivity was 100% when both IgM- and IgG-ELISAs were performed on the same acute phase sera and the results were combined. Acute and convalescence sera of patients who were Leptospira culture positive but MAT/IgM-dipstick negative gave 88% and 100% positives by combined cLigA IgM/IgG ELISAs. The diagnostic specificities for the cLigA IgM- and IgG-ELISAs were 98% and 100%, respectively. Our cLigA based-serology has a high potential for early diagnosis of leptospirosis especially when the culture and MAT results are not yet available.