Molecular genetic methods in the diagnosis of lower respiratory tract infections

APMIS. Nov-Dec 2004;112(11-12):713-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0463.2004.apm11211-1202.x.


Molecular diagnostic techniques, such as PCR, have become useful tools for the rapid etiological diagnosis of lower respiratory tract infections. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) have been evaluated for detecting most respiratory pathogens, and commercial assays are available for some pathogens. However, standardized protocols are needed before these assays are introduced into routine diagnostic use. For pneumonia, NAATs offer advantages over conventional tests for the detection of Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Legionella spp. and Chlamydia pneumoniae. For pneumococcal pneumonia in adults, PCR adds little to existing diagnostic tests, and is unable to distinguish pneumococcal colonization from infection when testing respiratory samples. Although less sensitive than culture-based methods, several commercial molecular diagnostic assays have been developed for tuberculosis and are useful rapid tests for selected patients. PCR can now be considered the rapid diagnostic test of choice for pertussis and some respiratory virus infections. Further work is required to better characterize the role of molecular diagnostic tests for diagnosing lower respiratory tract infections, and to develop standard assays that can be readily adopted by routine diagnostic laboratories.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bordetella pertussis / genetics
  • Bordetella pertussis / isolation & purification
  • Chlamydia / genetics
  • Chlamydia / isolation & purification
  • Haemophilus influenzae / genetics
  • Haemophilus influenzae / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Legionella / genetics
  • Legionella / isolation & purification
  • Molecular Biology / methods*
  • Mycobacterium / genetics
  • Mycobacterium / isolation & purification
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae / genetics
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae / isolation & purification
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • Pneumocystis carinii / genetics
  • Pneumocystis carinii / isolation & purification
  • Pneumonia, Pneumocystis / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Pneumocystis / microbiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / diagnosis*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • SARS Virus / genetics
  • SARS Virus / isolation & purification
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / genetics
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / isolation & purification
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis
  • Virus Diseases / virology