Aims: The aim of this study was to develop a polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) method for the rapid separation of 16S rRNA PCR amplicons from aetiological agents of acute meningitis.
Methods and results: Blood samples from 40 patients with suspected acute meningococcal meningitis were examined for the presence of causal agents, including Neisseria meningitidis employing two methods: (i) broad-range 16S rRNA PCR in conjunction with PAGE and automated sequencing and (ii) species-specific PCR employing ABI TaqMan technology for N. meningitidis. Analysis of clinical specimens employing 16S rRNA PCR yielded 33/40 (82.5%) positive for the presence of bacterial DNA. Species-specific PCR yielded 30/40 (75%) clinical specimens positive for N. meningitidis. Prior to separation by PAGE, only 6/33 (18.2%) amplicons were able to be identified by sequence analysis, the remaining amplicons (n=27) did not yield an identification due to the presence of mixed 16S rRNA PCR amplicons. Following separation, amplicons were re-amplified and sequenced, yielding 24/27 (88.9%) positive for N. meningitidis and three specimens positive for Acinetobacter sp., Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. One specimen was positive for both N. meningitidis and Streptococcus spp. and another specimen was positive for N. meningitidis and Pseudomonas sp., by broad-range PCR. Seven clinical specimens were negative for N. meningitidis and other eubacteria using both detection techniques.
Conclusions: Clinical specimens including blood and cerebrospinal fluid from patients with suspected acute bacterial meningitis, may become contaminated with commensal skin flora, resulting in difficulties in downstream sequencing of pathogen plus contaminant DNA. This study allows for the rapid separation of amplified pathogen from contaminant DNA.
Significance and impact of study: This study demonstrated the usefulness of the rapid separation of multiple 16S rRNA PCR amplicons using a combination of PAGE and automated sequencing, without the need of cloning. Adoption of this technique is therefore proposed when trying to rapidly identify pathogens in clinical specimens employing broad-range 16S rRNA PCR.