False-positive results and contamination in nucleic acid amplification assays: suggestions for a prevent and destroy strategy

Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2004 Apr;23(4):289-99. doi: 10.1007/s10096-004-1100-1. Epub 2004 Mar 10.


Contamination of samples with DNA is still a major problem in microbiology laboratories, despite the wide acceptance of PCR and other amplification techniques for the detection of frequently low amounts of target DNA. This review focuses on the implications of contamination in the diagnosis and research of infectious diseases, possible sources of contaminants, strategies for prevention and destruction, and quality control. Contamination of samples in diagnostic PCR can have far-reaching consequences for patients, as illustrated by several examples in this review. Furthermore, it appears that the (sometimes very unexpected) sources of contaminants are diverse (including water, reagents, disposables, sample carry over, and amplicon), and contaminants can also be introduced by unrelated activities in neighboring laboratories. Therefore, lack of communication between researchers using the same laboratory space can be considered a risk factor. Only a very limited number of multicenter quality control studies have been published so far, but these showed false-positive rates of 9-57%. The overall conclusion is that although nucleic acid amplification assays are basically useful both in research and in the clinic, their accuracy depends on awareness of risk factors and the proper use of procedures for the prevention of nucleic acid contamination. The discussion of prevention and destruction strategies included in this review may serve as a guide to help improve laboratory practices and reduce the number of false-positive amplification results.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / adverse effects*
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques / methods*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Quality Control
  • Risk Assessment
  • Suggestion