Molecular diagnostics in tuberculosis

Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2005 Nov;24(11):711-20. doi: 10.1007/s10096-005-0039-1.


Molecular diagnostics in tuberculosis has enabled rapid detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex in clinical specimens, identification of mycobacterial species, detection of drug resistance, and typing for epidemiological investigation. In the laboratory diagnosis of tuberculosis, the nucleic acid amplification (NAA) test is rapid and specific but not as sensitive as culture of mycobacteria. The primary determinant of successful NAA testing for tuberculosis depends on the shedding of mycobacterial DNA in secretions from caseating granulomas and its dissemination into sterile body fluids or tissue biopsies. In multibacillary diseases with a high mycobacterial load, a positive Ziehl-Neelsen smear with a positive NAA test is diagnostic of active tuberculosis, whereas a positive Ziehl-Neelsen smear with a negative NAA test in the absence of inhibitors would indicate nontuberculous mycobacterial disease. The role of the NAA test is more important in paucibacillary diseases with low mycobacterial loads. The presence of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) inhibitors, however, especially in extrapulmonary specimens, may produce false-negative results. Although this problem can be overcome to some extent by extra extraction steps, the additional processing invariably leads to the loss of mycobacterial DNA. To circumvent this problem, a brief culture augmentation step is carried out before the NAA test is performed, which can enhance the mycobacterial load while concomitantly diluting inhibitors, thereby maintaining the sensitivity of the test without excessively increasing turnaround time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / classification
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*