Background: The first documented case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) occurred in 2012, and outbreaks have continued ever since, mainly in Saudi Arabia. MERS-CoV is primarily diagnosed using a real-time RT-PCR assay, with at least two different genomic targets required for a positive diagnosis according to the case definition of The World Health Organization (WHO) as of 3 July 2013. Therefore, it is urgently necessary to develop as many specific genetic diagnostic methods as possible to allow stable diagnosis of MERS-CoV infections.
Methods: Reverse transcription-loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) is a genetic diagnostic method used widely for the detection of viral pathogens, which requires only a single temperature for amplification, and can be completed in less than 1 h. This study developed a novel RT-LAMP assay for detecting MERS-CoV using primer sets targeting a conserved nucleocapsid protein region.
Results: The RT-LAMP assay was capable of detecting as few as 3.4 copies of MERS-CoV RNA, and was highly specific, with no cross-reaction to other respiratory viruses. Pilot experiments to detect MERS-CoV from medium containing pharyngeal swabs inoculated with pre-titrated viruses were also performed. The RT-LAMP assay exhibited sensitivity similar to that of MERS-CoV real-time RT-PCR.
Conclusions: These results suggest that the RT-LAMP assay described here is a useful tool for the diagnosis and epidemiologic surveillance of human MERS-CoV infections.