Development and evaluation of a real-time PCR assay for detection and quantification of blastocystis parasites in human stool samples: prospective study of patients with hematological malignancies

J Clin Microbiol. 2011 Mar;49(3):975-83. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01392-10. Epub 2010 Dec 22.


Blastocystis anaerobic parasites are widespread worldwide in the digestive tract of many animal species, including humans. Epidemiological Blastocystis studies are often limited by the poor sensitivity of standard parasitological assays for its detection. This report presents a highly sensitive real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay developed to detect Blastocystis parasites in stool samples. The assay targets a partial sequence of the Blastocystis small ribosomal subunit (SSU) rRNA gene, allowing subtyping (ST) of Blastocystis isolates by direct sequencing of qPCR products. This qPCR method was assessed in a prospective study of 186 patients belonging to two cohorts--a group of 94 immunocompromised patients presenting hematological malignancies and a control group of 92 nonimmunocompromised patients. Direct-light microscopy and xenic in vitro stool culture analysis showed only 29% and 52% sensitivity, respectively, compared to our qPCR assay. Of the 27 (14.5%) Blastocystis-positive patients, 8 (4%) experienced digestive symptoms. No correlation was found between symptomatic patients and immune status, parasite load, or parasite subtypes, although subtyping of all isolates revealed a high (63.0%) prevalence of ST4. Two unexpected avian subtypes were found, i.e., ST6 and ST7, which are frequently isolated in Asia but rarely present in Western countries. In conclusion, this qPCR proved by far the most sensitive of the tested methods and allowed subtype determination by direct sequencing of qPCR products. New diagnostic tools such as the qPCR are essential for evaluating the clinical relevance of Blastocystis subtypes and their role in acute or chronic digestive disorders.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blastocystis / classification
  • Blastocystis / genetics
  • Blastocystis / isolation & purification*
  • Blastocystis Infections / diagnosis*
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Female
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Typing
  • Parasitology / methods*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal