Adjunctive Tests for Diagnosis of Tuberculosis: Serology, ELISPOT for Site-Specific Lymphocytes, Urinary Lipoarabinomannan, String Test, and Fine Needle Aspiration

J Infect Dis. 2011 Nov 15;204 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):S1130-41. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jir450.


The diagnostic gold standard for active tuberculosis (TB) is the detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) by culture or molecular methods. However, despite its limited sensitivity, sputum smear microscopy is still the mainstay of TB diagnosis in resource-limited settings. Consequently, diagnosis of smear-negative pulmonary and extrapulmonary TB remains challenging in such settings. A number of novel or alternative techniques could provide adjunctive diagnostic use in the context of difficult-to-diagnose TB. These may be especially useful in certain patient groups such as persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and children, who are disproportionably affected by smear-negative and extrapulmonary disease and who are also most adversely affected by delays in TB diagnosis and treatment. We review a selection of these methods that are independent of nucleic acid amplification techniques and could largely be implemented in resource-limited settings in current or adapted versions. Specifically, we discuss the diagnostic use and potential of serologic tests based on detection of antibodies to MTB antigens; interferon gamma release assays using site-specific lymphocytes; detection of lipoarabinomannan, a glycolipid of MTB, in urine; the string test, a novel technique to retrieve lower respiratory tract samples; and fine needle aspiration biopsy of lymph nodes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods*
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunospot Assay / methods
  • HIV Infections / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma Release Tests
  • Lipopolysaccharides / urine*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • Serologic Tests / methods
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis / urine
  • Tuberculosis / virology


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • lipoarabinomannan