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Improved diagnosis of mycobacterial infections in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded sections with nested polymerase chain reaction

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Azov AG, Koch J, Hamilton-Dutoit SJ. Improved diagnosis of mycobacterial infections in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded sections with nested polymerase chain reaction. APMIS 2005;113:586–93.

Traditional histological diagnosis of mycobacterial infection in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues is insensitive and poorly specific. To improve this, we developed nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) protocols for detecting a Mycobacterium genus-specific 65-kDa heat shock protein (HSP65) sequence and the M. tuberculosis complex-specific insertion sequence IS6110 in FFPE sections. Protocols were optimized on tissues from 20 patients with a final clinical diagnosis of mycobacterial infection. Amplicons were controlled by sequencing and restriction endonuclease digestion. PCR could detect as few as three mycobacterial genomes per reaction. Assays showed 100% sensitivity and specificity for both M. tuberculosis complex and M. avium complex infection. Paraffin blocks from a second group of 26 patients with histological evidence of necrotizing granulomas of unknown etiology were then analyzed as a surrogate group to test the assay under conditions similar to those applying during routine diagnosis. Twenty-three of these blocks contained amplifiable DNA; nine were positive for M. tuberculosis complex DNA and four for other types of mycobacterial DNA. Furthermore, digestion of HSP65 amplicons with NarI could distinguish M. tuberculosis from M. avium complex. In conclusion, our nested PCR assays can be used as reliable tools for the detection of mycobacterial infections in FFPE tissues. The assays are simple and rapid to perform and show improved sensitivity and specificity compared to previously reported protocols.

Keywords: Atypical mycobacteria; nested PCR; paraffin sections; tuberculosis

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Pathology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark and

Publication date: September 1, 2005


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