Our aim was to investigate the use of DNA amplification with the ligase chain reaction (LCR) for detection of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex directly in human clinical specimens. The LCR assay employed was the Abbott LCx MTB Assay, which uses the gene encoding protein antigen b as the target template. Four hundred eighty-two samples from 457 patients in one clinical microbiology laboratory in Norway were processed by routine culture analysis (BACTEC culture), direct microscopy (Ziehl-Neelsen staining) and LCR. Of the 118 specimens containing cultivable M. tuberculosis, 106 (90.6%) were detected by LCR. Among the 364 culture-negative specimens, 356 samples were negative also by LCR and 8 (1.6%) were positive by LCR. In five of the eight LCR-positive and culture-negative samples, another sample from the same patient was M. tuberculosis culture positive and/or the patient had symptoms of tuberculosis. In comparison with culture, the sensitivity of LCR was 96.7% for smear-positive samples and 72.0% for smear-negative samples, respectively. For all samples combined, the sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values were 90.2, 99.2, 97.4, and 96.7%, respectively. Challenging the M. tuberculosis LCR test with DNAs and cultures from strains of Mycobacterium ulcerans and Mycobacterium marinum, which are the mycobacterial species most closely related to the M. tuberculosis complex, resulted in all-negative test results. The sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of BACTEC culture in comparison with the LCR test and clinical criteria were 95.9, 100, 100, and 98.6%, respectively. A certain prioritization of samples subjected to the LCR assay should be based on clinical indications and risks with regard to infection transmission and patient isolation policy. More automation and lower expenses are generally desired for nucleic acid amplification kits. However, this M. tuberculosis LCR assay represents a valuable tool in routine mycobacterial diagnostics
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