False-positive gen-probe direct Mycobacterium tuberculosis amplification test results for patients with pulmonary M. kansasii and M. avium infections

James H. Jorgensen, Jesse R. Salinas, Rosemary Paxson, Karen Magnon, Jan E. Patterson, Thomas F. Patterson

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24 Scopus citations


The Gen-Probe Amplified Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Direct (MTD) test has been approved for use in the United States for the rapid diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis in patients with acid-fast smear-positive sputum samples since 1996. Four patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus and one chronic pulmonary-disease patient seen in our institutions with abnormal chest radiographs and fluorochrome stain-positive sputa were evaluated for tuberculosis, including performance of the MTD test on expectorated sputum samples. Three of these five patients' sputa were highly smear-positive (i.e., more than 100 bacilli per high-power field), while two patient's sputa contained 1 to 10 bacilli per field. MTD results on sputum specimens from these patients ranged from 43,498 to 193,858 relative light units (RLU), Gen-Probe has defined values of at least 30,000 RLU as indicative of a positive test, i.e., the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis RNA. Four of the patients' sputum cultures yielded growth of M. kansasii within 6 to 12 days, and the fifth produced growth of M. avium only. One patient's culture contained both M. kansasii and M. avium, but none of the initial or follow-up cultures from these five patients revealed M. tuberculosis. However, subsequent cultures from three of the patients again revealed M. kansasii. During the period of this study, in which MTD tests were performed on smear-positive sputum specimens from 82 patients, four of seven patients with culture-proven M. kansasii pulmonary infections yielded one or more false-positive MTD tests. The MTD sensitivity observed in this study was 93.8%, and the specificity was 85.3%. Five cultures of M. kansasii (including three of these patients' isolates and M. kansasii ATCC 12478), and cultures of several other species were examined at densities of 105 to 107 viable CFU/ml by the MTD test. All five isolates of M. kansasii and three of three isolates of M. simiae yielded false-positive test results, with readings of 75,191 to 335,591 RLU. These findings indicate that low-level false-positive MTD results can occur due to the presence of M. kansasii, M. avium, and possibly other Mycobacterium species other than M. tuberculosis in sputum. Low-level positive MTD results of 30,000 to 500,000 RLU should be interpreted in light of these findings. It remains to be determined if the enhanced MTD test (MTD 2) recently released by Gen-Probe will provide greater specificity than that observed in this report with its first-generation test.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-178
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of clinical microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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