Xpert® MTB/RIF assay for pulmonary tuberculosis and rifampicin resistance in adults

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;(1):CD009593. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009593.pub2.


Background: Accurate and rapid detection of tuberculosis (TB) and drug resistance are critical for improving patient care and decreasing the spread of TB. Xpert® MTB/RIF assay (Xpert) is a rapid, automated test that can detect both TB and rifampicin resistance, within two hours after starting the test, with minimal hands-on technical time, but is more expensive than conventional sputum microscopy.

Objectives: To assess the diagnostic accuracy of Xpert for pulmonary TB (TB detection), both where Xpert was used as an initial test replacing microscopy, and where Xpert was used as an add-on test following a negative smear microscopy result.To assess the diagnostic accuracy of Xpert for rifampicin resistance detection where Xpert was used as the initial test, replacing conventional culture-based drug susceptibility testing.The population of interest was adults suspected of having pulmonary TB or multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), with or without HIV infection.

Search methods: We performed a comprehensive search of the following databases: Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register; MEDLINE; EMBASE; ISI Web of Knowledge; MEDION; LILACS; BIOSIS; and SCOPUS. We also searched the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) and the search portal of the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform to identify ongoing trials. We performed searches on 25 September 2011 and we repeated them on 15 December 2011, without language restriction.

Selection criteria: We included randomized controlled trials, cross-sectional, and cohort studies that used respiratory specimens to compare Xpert with culture for detecting TB and Xpert with conventional phenotypic drug susceptibility testing for detecting rifampicin resistance.

Data collection and analysis: For each study, two review authors independently extracted a set of data using a standardized data extraction form. When possible, we extracted data for subgroups by smear and HIV status. We assessed the quality of studies using the QUADAS-2 tool. We carried out meta-analyses to estimate the pooled sensitivity and specificity of Xpert separately for TB detection and rifampicin resistance detection using a bivariate random-effects model. We estimated the median pooled sensitivity and specificity and their 95% credible intervals (CrI).

Main results: We identified 18 unique studies as eligible for this review, including two multicentre international studies, one with five and the other with six distinct study centres. The majority of studies (55.6%) were performed in low-income and middle-income countries. In 17 of the 18 studies, Xpert was performed by trained technicians in reference laboratories.When used as an initial test replacing smear microscopy (15 studies, 7517 participants), Xpert achieved a pooled sensitivity of 88% (95% CrI 83% to 92%) and pooled specificity of 98% (95% CrI 97% to 99%). As an add-on test following a negative smear microscopy result (14 studies, 5719 participants), Xpert yielded a pooled sensitivity of 67% (95% CrI 58% to 74%) and pooled specificity of 98% (95% CrI 97% to 99%). In clinical subgroups, we found the following accuracy estimates: the pooled sensitivity was 98% (95% CrI 97% to 99%) for smear-positive, culture-positive TB and 68% (95% CrI 59% to 75%) for smear-negative, culture-positive TB (15 studies); the pooled sensitivity was 80% (95% CrI 67% to 88%) in people living with HIV and 89% (95% CrI 81% to 94%) in people without HIV infection (four studies). For rifampicin resistance detection (11 studies, 2340 participants), Xpert achieved a pooled sensitivity of 94% (95% CrI 87% to 97%) and pooled specificity of 98% (95% CrI 97% to 99%). In a separate analysis, Xpert could distinguish between TB and nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) in clinical samples with high accuracy: among 139 specimens with NTM, Xpert was positive in only one specimen that grew NTM.In a hypothetical cohort of 1000 individuals suspected of having rifampicin resistance (a proxy for MDR-TB), where the prevalence of rifampicin resistance is 30%, we estimated that on average Xpert would wrongly identify 14 patients as being rifampicin resistant. In comparison, where the prevalence of rifampicin resistance is only 2%, we estimated that the number of individuals wrongly identified as rifampicin resistant would increase to 20, an increase of 43%.

Authors' conclusions: This review shows that Xpert used as an initial diagnostic test for TB detection and rifampicin resistance detection in patients suspected of having TB, MDR-TB, or HIV-associated TB is sensitive and specific. Xpert may also be valuable as an add-on test following microscopy for patients who have previously been found to be smear-negative. An Xpert result that is positive for rifampicin resistance should be carefully interpreted and take into consideration the risk of MDR-TB in a given patient and the expected prevalence of MDR-TB in a given setting.Studies in this review mainly assessed sensitivity and specificity of the test when used in reference laboratories in research investigations. Most studies were performed in high TB burden countries. Ongoing use of Xpert in high TB burden countries will contribute to the evidence base on the diagnostic accuracy and clinical impact of Xpert in routine programmatic and peripheral health care settings, including settings where the test is performed at the point of care.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibiotics, Antitubercular / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / drug effects*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Rifampin / therapeutic use*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / drug therapy*


  • Antibiotics, Antitubercular
  • Rifampin