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J Med Microbiol. 2010 Mar;59(Pt 3):273-84. doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.014100-0. Epub 2009 Nov 19.

Rapid identification of Legionella species by mass spectrometry.

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URMITE CNRS-IRD UMR 6236, Faculté de Médecine, 13385 Marseille Cedex 05, France.


Legionella species are facultative, intracellular bacteria that infect macrophages and protozoa, with the latter acting as transmission vectors to humans. These fastidious bacteria mostly cause pulmonary tract infections and are routinely identified by various molecular methods, mainly PCR targeting the mip gene and sequencing, which are expensive and time-consuming. Recently, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF-MS) has emerged as a rapid and inexpensive method for identification of bacterial species. This study evaluated the use of MALDI-TOF-MS for rapid species and serogroup identification of 21 Legionella species recognized as human pathogens. To this end, a reference MS database was developed including 59 Legionella type strains, and a blind test was performed using 237 strains from various species. Two hundred and twenty-three of the 237 strains (94.1 %) were correctly identified at the species level, although ten (4.2 %) were identified with a score lower than 2.0. Fourteen strains (5.9 %) from eight species were misidentified at the species level, including seven (3.0 %) with a significant score, suggesting an intraspecific variability of protein profiles within some species. MALDI-TOF-MS was reproducible but could not identify Legionella strains at the serogroup level. When compared with mip gene sequencing, MALDI-TOF-MS exhibited a sensitivity of 99.2 and 89.9 % for the identification of Legionella strains at the genus and species level, respectively. This study demonstrated that MALDI-TOF-MS is a reliable tool for the rapid identification of Legionella strains at the species level.

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