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Mol Diagn. 1996 Jun;1(1):29-39.

Development and Validation of a Multiplex PCR-Based Assay for the Upper Respiratory Tract Bacterial Pathogens Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Moraxella catarrhalis.

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School of Medicine, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA


Background: Conventional simplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assays are limited in that they only provide for the detection of a single infectious agent. Many clinical diseases, however, present in a nonspecific, or syndromic, fashion, thereby necessitating the simultaneous assessment of multiple pathogens. Panel-based molecular diagnostic testing can be accomplished by the development of multiplex PCR-based assays, which can detect, individually or severally, different pathogens that are associated with syndromic illness. As part of a larger program of panel development, an assay that can simultaneously detect Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Moraxella catarrhalis was developed. These organisms were chosen as they are the most common bacterial pathogens associated with both the acute and chronic forms of otitis media; they are also responsible for a high percentage of sinus infections in both children and adults. In addition, H. influenzae and S. pneumoniae are commonly associated with septic meningitits. Methods and Results: Multiple individual PCR-based assays were developed for each of the three target organisms which were then evaluated for sensitivity and specificity. Utilizing the simplex assays that met our designated performance criteria, a matrix style approach was used to develop a duplex H. influenzae-S. pneumoniae assay. The duplex assay was then used as a single component in the development of a triplex assay, wherein the various M. catarrhalis primer-probe sets were tested for compatibility with the existing assay. A single-step PCR protocol, with species-specific primers for each of the three target organisms and a liquid hybridization-gel retardation amplimer detection system, was developed, which amplifies and then discriminates among each of the amplification products according to size. This assay is able to detect all three organisms in a specific manner, either individually or severally. Dilutional experiments indicate a detection limit of 10 femtograms (fg)(6-7 genomic equivalents) or less of genomic DNA for each of the three microorganisms regardless of the presence of irrelevant DNA. Conclusions: The reliance on individual, robust, species-specific primers and the avoidance of a nested PCR approach make this bacterial multiplex assay suitable for use in the clinical laboratory. This assay has proved useful in both research and patient care applications.

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