Rationale and objectives: Blood-based studies have demonstrated the potential of immunological assays to detect tuberculosis. However lung fluid sampling may prove superior as it enables simultaneous microbiological detection of mycobacteria to be performed. Until now this has only been possible using the expensive and invasive technique of broncho-alveolar lavage. We sought to evaluate an immunoassay using non-invasive induced-sputum to diagnose active tuberculosis.
Methods and results: Prospective cohort study of forty-two spontaneous sputum smear-negative or sputum non-producing adults under investigation for tuberculosis. CD4 lymphocytes specific to purified-protein-derivative of Mycobacterium tuberculosis actively synthesising interferon-gamma were measured by flow cytometry and final diagnosis compared to immunoassay using a cut-off of 0.5%. Sixteen subjects (38%) were HIV-infected (median CD4 count [range] = 332 cells/microl [103-748]). Thirty-eight (90%) were BCG-vaccinated. In 27 subjects diagnosed with active tuberculosis, the median [range] percentage of interferon-gamma synthetic CD4+ lymphocytes was 2.77% [0-23.93%] versus 0% [0-2.10%] in 15 negative for active infection (p<0.0001). Sensitivity and specificity of the immunoassay versus final diagnosis of active tuberculosis were 89% (24 of 27) and 80% (12 of 15) respectively. The 3 positive assays in the latter group occurred in subjects diagnosed with quiescent/latent tuberculosis. Assay performance was unaffected by HIV-status, BCG-vaccination or disease site. Combining this approach with traditional microbiological methods increased the diagnostic yield to 93% (25 of 27) alongside acid-fast bacilli smear and 96% (26 of 27) alongside tuberculosis culture.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate for the first time that a rapid immunological assay to diagnose active tuberculosis can be performed successfully in combination with microbiological methods on a single induced-sputum sample.