The 38 kDa protein of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which was known previously as antigen 5, has been extensively used in the serodiagnosis of tuberculosis. In an attempt to develop and evaluate a serodiagnostic test using the antigen, we expressed the 38 kDa protein in BCG and its seroreactivity was compared to that expressed in Escherichia coli. The coding region of the 38 kDa protein was amplified by PCR, and the gene was cloned into a Mycobacterium-E. coli shuttle expression vector pYMC-his and pQE30 expression vector and expressed in BCG and E. coli, respectively. Both recombinant 38 kDa proteins showed strong seroreactivity against pooled serum from tuberculosis patients. There was no significant difference in seroreactivity between the two recombinant antigens in sera from the far advanced tuberculosis patients. However, of 25 tuberculosis patients graded as ""minimal"" by chest X-ray, 5 (20.0%) were seropositive by r38 kDa expressed in E. coli, while 8 (32.0%) by that expressed in BCG. Likewise, higher seroreactivity by r38 kDa expressed in BCG was found in sera from the moderately advanced tuberculosis. This study thus indicates that the recombinant 38 kDa expressed in BCG is more effective than that expressed in E. coli in detecting antibodies to the native 38 kDa protein of M. tuberculosis in sera from minimally affected tuberculosis patients.