Multicenter evaluation of a new automated fourth-generation human immunodeficiency virus screening assay with a sensitive antigen detection module and high specificity

J Clin Microbiol. 2002 Jun;40(6):1938-46. doi: 10.1128/JCM.40.6.1938-1946.2002.


Fourth-generation assays for the simultaneous detection of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) antigen and antibody that were available on the international market until now have antigen detection modules with relatively poor sensitivity and produce a higher rate of false-positive results than third-generation enzyme immunoassays (EIAs). The new Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA with an improved sensitivity for HIV p24 antigen was compared to alternative fourth- and third-generation assays, the p24 antigen test, and HIV type 1 (HIV-1) RNA reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR). A total of 94 seroconversion panels (n = 709 sera), samples from the acute phase of infection after seroconversion (n = 32), anti-HIV-1-positive specimens (n = 730) from patients in different stages of the disease, 462 subtyped samples from different geographical locations, anti-HIV-2-positive sera (n = 302), dilutions of cell culture supernatants (n = 62) from cells infected with different HIV-1 subtypes, selected performance panels from Boston Biomedica Inc., 7,579 unselected samples from blood donors, 303 unselected daily routine samples, 997 specimens from hospitalized patients, and potentially interfering samples (n = 1,222) were tested with Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA. The new assay showed a sensitivity comparable to that of the Abbott HIV-1 AG Monoclonal A for early detection of HIV infection in seroconversion panels. The mean time delay of Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA (last negative sample plus 1 day) in comparison to that for HIV-1 RT-PCR for 87 panels tested with both methods was 2.75 days. The diagnostic window was reduced with Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA by between 3.6 and 5.7 days from that for third-generation assays. The specificities of Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA in blood donors were 99.84 and 99.85% (after repeated testing). Overall, 30 repeatedly reactive false-positive results out of 10,031 HIV-negative samples were obtained with Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA. Our results show that a fourth-generation assay with improved specificity such as Cobas Core HIV Combi EIA is suitable for blood donor screening because of its low number of false positives and because it detects HIV p24 antigen with a sensitivity comparable to that of single-antigen assays.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Serodiagnosis*
  • Blood Donors
  • HIV Antibodies / blood
  • HIV Antigens / blood*
  • HIV Core Protein p24 / blood*
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification
  • HIV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques*
  • Mass Screening
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time Factors


  • HIV Antibodies
  • HIV Antigens
  • HIV Core Protein p24
  • RNA, Viral
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic