Laboratory validation of a clinical metagenomic sequencing assay for pathogen detection in cerebrospinal fluid

Genome Res. 2019 May;29(5):831-842. doi: 10.1101/gr.238170.118. Epub 2019 Apr 16.


Metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) for pan-pathogen detection has been successfully tested in proof-of-concept case studies in patients with acute illness of unknown etiology but to date has been largely confined to research settings. Here, we developed and validated a clinical mNGS assay for diagnosis of infectious causes of meningitis and encephalitis from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in a licensed microbiology laboratory. A customized bioinformatics pipeline, SURPI+, was developed to rapidly analyze mNGS data, generate an automated summary of detected pathogens, and provide a graphical user interface for evaluating and interpreting results. We established quality metrics, threshold values, and limits of detection of 0.2-313 genomic copies or colony forming units per milliliter for each representative organism type. Gross hemolysis and excess host nucleic acid reduced assay sensitivity; however, spiked phages used as internal controls were reliable indicators of sensitivity loss. Diagnostic test accuracy was evaluated by blinded mNGS testing of 95 patient samples, revealing 73% sensitivity and 99% specificity compared to original clinical test results, and 81% positive percent agreement and 99% negative percent agreement after discrepancy analysis. Subsequent mNGS challenge testing of 20 positive CSF samples prospectively collected from a cohort of pediatric patients hospitalized with meningitis, encephalitis, and/or myelitis showed 92% sensitivity and 96% specificity relative to conventional microbiological testing of CSF in identifying the causative pathogen. These results demonstrate the analytic performance of a laboratory-validated mNGS assay for pan-pathogen detection, to be used clinically for diagnosis of neurological infections from CSF.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Computational Biology
  • Encephalitis / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Encephalitis / diagnosis*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Meningitis, Aseptic / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Meningitis, Aseptic / diagnosis*
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Myelitis / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Myelitis / diagnosis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Viruses / isolation & purification