The aim of the study was to develop an indirect, robust and simple in application method for the detection of bovine leukemia virus antigen gp51. Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) was applied as detection method. Magnetic gold nanoparticles (MNP-Au) modified by antibodies in oriented or random manner were used for the binding of gp51. The high performance liquid chromatography analysis indicated that the best antibody immobilization and antigen capturing efficiency was achieved using fragmented antibodies obtained after reduction of intact antibodies with dithiothreitol. In order to increase efficiency and sensitivity of immunoassay Raman labels consisting of gold nanorods coated by 5-thio-nitrobenzoic acid layer with covalently bounded antibodies have been constructed. The LOD and LOQ of the proposed immunoassay for antigen gp51 detection were found to be 0.95 mu g mL(-1) and 3.14 mu g mL(-1), respectively. This immunoassay was successfully applied for the detection of gp51 in milk samples in a rapid, reliable and selective manner. We believe that the proposed SERS-based immunoassay format can be applied for the detection of other proteins. (c) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.