The application of PCR technology to molecular diagnostics holds great promise for the early identification of medically important pathogens. PCR has been shown to be useful for the detection of the presence of fungal DNA in both laboratory and clinical samples. Considerable interest has been focused on the utility of selecting universal primers, those that recognize constant regions among most, if not all, medically important fungi. Once an amplicon, or piece of amplified DNA determined by the unique pair of oligonucleotide primers, has been generated, several different methods may be used to distinguish between genera and between species. The two major approaches have utilized differences in restriction enzyme digestion patterns or hybridization with specific probe. We report the application of single-strand conformational polymorphism (SSCP) as a technique to delineate the differences between fungal species and/or genera. Minor sequence variations in small single-stranded DNA cause subtle changes in conformation, allowing these strands to be separated on polyacrylamide gels by SSCP. We used a 197-bp fragment amplified from the 18S rRNA gene, common to all medically important fungi. After amplification, the fragments were denatured and run on an acrylamide-glycerol gel at room temperature or 4 degrees C for 4.5 or 4 h, respectively. Under room temperature conditions, the SSCP patterns for Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, and Candida parapsilosis were identical and all strains within each species demonstrated the same pattern. These patterns differed markedly from those of the genus Aspergillus. The SSCP patterns of major and minor bands at room temperature permitted distinction between strains of Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus. There also was consistency of the SSCP banding pattern among different strains of the same Aspergillus species. The SSCP patterns for other medically important opportunistic fungi, such as Cryptococcus neoformans, Pseudallescheria boydii, and Rhizopus arrhizus, were sufficiently unique to permit distinction from those of C. albicans and A. fumigatus. We conclude that the technique of PCR-SSCP provides a novel method by which to recognize and distinguish medically important opportunistic fungi and which has potential applications to molecular diagnosis, taxonomic classification, molecular epidemiology, and elucidation of mechanisms of antifungal drug resistance
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