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J Aquat Anim Health. 2010 Mar;22(1):50-61. doi: 10.1577/H09-028.1.

Comparison of quantitative RT-PCR with cell culture to detect viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) IVb infections in the Great Lakes.

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  • 1Aquatic Animal Health Program, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) is an important pathogen of cultured and wild fish in marine and freshwater environments. A new genotype, VHSV IVb, was isolated from a fish collected from the Great Lakes in 2003. Since the first isolation, VHSV IVb has been confirmed in 28 species, signaling the early invasion and continued spread of this Office International des Epizooties-reportable agent. For surveillance of this virus in both wild and experimental settings, we have developed a rapid and sensitive one-step quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) assay that amplifies a 100-base-pair conserved segment from both the genomic negative strand and the mRNA positive strand of the nucleoprotein (N) gene of VHSV IVb. This assay is linear over seven orders of magnitude, with an analytical capability of detecting a single copy of viral RNA and reproducibility at 100 copies. The assay is approximately linear with RNA input from 50 to 1000 ng per assay and works equally well with RNA prepared from a column-based or phenol-chloroform-based method. In wild-caught fish, 97% of the cases were found to be more than three orders of magnitude more sensitive using qRT-PCR than using cell culture. Of the 1,428 fish from the Great Lakes region tested in 2006 and 2007, 24% were positive by qRT-PCR whereas only 5% were positive by cell culture. All of the fish that were positive by cell culture were also positive by qRT-PCR. Importantly, qRT-PCR sensitivity is comparable to that of cell culture detection when comparing VHSV viral RNA levels with viral titer stocks, confirming that the high qRT-PCR signals obtained with diagnostic samples are due to the accumulation of N gene mRNA by transcriptional attenuation. The qRT-PCR assay is particularly valuable for rapid and high-throughput prescreening of fish before confirmatory testing by cell culture or sequencing tissue-derived amplicons and especially in detecting infection in fish that do not show clinical signs of VHS.

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