Until recently, matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) techniques for the identification of microorganisms remained confined to research laboratories. In the last 2 years, the availability of relatively simple to use MALDI-TOF MS devices, which can be utilized in clinical microbiology laboratories, has changed the laboratory workflows for the identification of pathogens. Recently, the first prospective studies regarding the performance in routine bacterial identification showed that MALDI-TOF MS is a fast, reliable and cost-effective technique that has the potential to replace and/or complement conventional phenotypic identification for most bacterial strains isolated in clinical microbiology laboratories. For routine bacterial isolates, correct identification by MALDI-TOF MS at the species level was obtained in 84.1-93.6% of instances. In one of these studies, a protein extraction step clearly improved the overall valid identification yield, from 70.3% to 93.2%. This review focuses on the current state of use of MALDI-TOF MS for the identification of routine bacterial isolates and on the main difficulties that may lead to erroneous or doubtful identifications.
© 2010 The Authors. Clinical Microbiology and Infection © 2010 European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.