Evaluation of sputum decontamination methods for Mycobacterium tuberculosis using viable colony counts and flow cytometry

Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis. 2003 Nov;47(3):503-9. doi: 10.1016/s0732-8893(03)00138-x.


Continuous monitoring systems for the detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis are reported to have higher contamination rates than traditional radiometric technologies. Multiple decontamination methods have recently been reported in an attempt to optimize contamination rates for these systems. In this study, several decontamination methods for sputum were evaluated using viable colony count and flow cytometry. The decontamination protocols evaluated include N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine-Sodium Hydroxide (NALC-NaOH), modified Petroffs's method, and the Yamane procedure. Several parameters of the NALC-NaOH method were analyzed including final NaOH concentrations of 0.5-3%, NaOH exposure times of 0-30 min, and variations in resuspension media for the resultant pellet. All decontamination methods were performed on pooled and sterilized sputum seeded separately with either a mixture of common contaminating bacteria or M. tuberculosis H37Ra. Viability of organisms following decontamination was assessed by both colony counts and flow cytometric analysis. Flow cytometry viability assays utilized a combination of viability dyes and reference beads to determine viable organism concentrations. The results indicated that no decontamination method was clearly superior, however a concentration of 1-2% NaOH and an increase in the time of NaOH exposure to 30 min will effectively kill contaminating bacteria without significantly affecting the viability of M. tuberculosis H37Ra. While flow cytometry viability analysis did not directly correspond to viable colony counts, it was a useful tool for rapid viability analysis M. tuberculosis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bacteriological Techniques
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • Probability
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sodium Hydroxide / pharmacology*
  • Specimen Handling
  • Sputum / microbiology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis


  • Sodium Hydroxide