Background/aims: In the past few years the detection of HCV-RNA by polymerase chain reaction has become a well-established diagnostic tool for patients with chronic hepatitis C. However, the lack of reproducible results between laboratories and the relatively high proportion of false-positive results, has indicated the need for a standardized and reliable polymerase chain reaction assay. In the present study we have analyzed the performance of a commercial, HCV-RNA polymerase chain reaction assay based on a single, combined reverse transcription and amplification reaction and on the use of Uracil-N-glycosilase to prevent carry-over contamination (Amplicor HCV, Roche Molecular Systems).
Methods: In this assay the amplification products are detected in microwell plates using biotinylated primer and the HRP avidin colorimetric system. Serum samples collected from 446 patients, including 181 with chronic active hepatitis C, 50 with autoimmune chronic hepatitis, 117 in hemodialysis, 30 asymptomatic carriers of anti-HCV and 68 with indeterminate serology (RIBA indeterminate results), as well as from 121 controls were tested with the commercial, single-step assay and with nested polymerase chain reaction. Both techniques use primers located within the 5' non-coding region of the HCV genome.
Results: In all cases a good concordance was observed between the commercial, single-step assay and nested polymerase chain reaction which, for patients with chronic active hepatitis, showed a sensitivity and specificity of 100% and 99.3% for the former and of 98.8% and 100% for the latter, when compared to clinical diagnosis taken as the gold standard. Most of the 11 discordant samples were seen in the group of RIBA-indeterminate cases and in patients with chronic active hepatitis C. Further analysis of these cases, based on repeat testing and clinical data showed that 64% and 36% of the discrepancies were due, respectively, to nested polymerase chain reaction and Amplicor inconsistent reactions. In hemodialyzed patients, patients with autoimmune hepatitis and asymptomatic carriers of anti-HCV, both assays produced results which were consistent with the clinical diagnosis. In the former group, polymerase chain reaction was able to identify the presence of active viral replication in some antibody negative samples.
Conclusions: Taken together, these results indicate that the commercial, single-step polymerase chain reaction assay has the same clinical sensitivity and specificity as nested polymerase chain reaction and that, because of its simplified procedures and fast turn-around time, it may be a valuable test for routine diagnostic applications.