The importance of Aspergillus as a lung pathogen in cystic fibrosis (CF) is becoming increasingly recognised. However, fungal culture of CF sputum is unreliable and there is no consensus for identifying phenotypes beyond ABPA that may benefit from antifungal therapy. There are no published studies using real-time PCR to detect Aspergillus in CF sputum. The major barrier to sensitive detection of Aspergillus using PCR is sputum homogenisation. This study aimed to optimise sputum homogenisation utilising sonication to improve Aspergillus DNA extraction. Sonication amplitude and duration that enabled sputum homogenisation but ensured preservation of DNA integrity were first determined. 160 sputum samples were collected from CF patients. 49 of the sputum samples were split, one half was used for standard culture and the other half was homogenised with NALC-NaOH before undergoing DNA extraction. The subsequent 111 samples were homogenised with dithiothreitol plus sonication prior to culture and DNA extraction. Real-time PCR targeting a portion of the 18S rDNA of Aspergillus was performed on all DNA extractions. In the 49 samples with no sonication 8 (16%) were culture positive but only 4 of these were PCR positive. However, PCR was positive in 11 culture negative samples. PCR after sonication showed a significant improvement in sensitivity: 33 (30%) were culture and PCR positive, 48 (43%) were culture negative, but PCR positive (p<0.0001) and 30 (27%) were culture and PCR negative. The combination of dithiothreitol and sonication to homogenise sputum increases PCR yield, with PCR being substantially more sensitive than culture.
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