Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the most common cause of viral intra-uterine infection. The experience with prenatal diagnosis remains limited and is based on few reports of small numbers of cases. It is thus difficult to compare the accuracy of the different tests because the groups studied were small and heterogeneous. We describe here our experience on a series of 98 pregnancies leading to HCMV congenital infection, among which 71 have been tested by amniotic fluid (AF) sampling followed by culture and/or polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Independently of the delay between AF sampling and the first HCMV IgM positive result, the mean sensitivity of both culture and PCR was around 70 per cent. The best sensitivity (95.5 per cent) was obtained after a delay > or = 6 weeks in late pregnancy (> or = 23 weeks). The present study demonstrated clearly that the delay between AF puncture and the presumed date of seroconversion is more important for sensitivity than the technique used for the diagnosis (PCR or culture). However, even in the best diagnostic conditions, negative results of HCMV culture or PCR in AF cannot formally exclude intra-uterine infection.