Rationale: The rapid diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is difficult when acid fast bacilli (AFB) cannot be detected in sputum smears.
Objectives: Following a proof of principle study, we examined in routine clinical practice whether individuals with sputum AFB smear-negative TB can be discriminated from those with latent TB infection by local immunodiagnosis with a Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISpot) assay.
Methods: Subjects suspected of having active TB who were unable to produce sputum or with AFB-negative sputum smears were prospectively enrolled at Tuberculosis Network European Trialsgroup centers in Europe. ELISpot with early-secretory-antigenic-target-6 and culture-filtrate-protein-10 peptides was performed on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and bronchoalveolar lavage mononuclear cells (BALMCs). M. tuberculosis-specific nucleic acid amplification (NAAT) was performed on bronchoalveolar lavage fluid.
Measurements and main results: Seventy-one of 347 (20.4%) patients had active TB. Out of 276 patients who had an alternative diagnosis, 127 (46.0%) were considered to be latently infected with M. tuberculosis by a positive PBMC ELISpot result. The sensitivity and specificity of BALMC ELISpot for the diagnosis of active pulmonary TB were 91 and 80%, respectively. The BALMC ELISpot (diagnostic odds ratio [OR], 40.4) was superior to PBMC ELISpot (OR, 10.0), tuberculin skin test (OR, 7.8), and M. tuberculosis specific NAAT (OR, 12.4) to diagnose sputum AFB smear-negative TB. In contrast to PBMC ELISpot and tuberculin skin test, the BALMC ELISpot was not influenced by previous history of TB.
Conclusions: Bronchoalveolar lavage ELISpot is an important advancement to rapidly distinguish sputum AFB smear-negative TB from latent TB infection in routine clinical practice.