BACKGROUND: Knowledge of the sequences of mycobacterial genes and the availability of DNA amplification techniques have raised the possibility that identification of mycobacterial DNA may offer a rapid and specific diagnostic test for tuberculosis. The correlation between the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis DNA and clinical tuberculosis, however, is not known. This study compared the results of polymerase chain reaction amplification of two M tuberculosis DNA sequences, IS6110 and the gene encoding the 65kDa heat shock protein (65kDa Ag), from sputum, bronchoscopy washings, and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and related these findings to the presence of active and past tuberculosis. METHODS: Highly specific primers were used for amplification of IS6110 and 65kDa Ag DNA. Analysis was performed on one or more samples from 87 patients. RESULTS: IS6110 DNA was identified in samples from all six patients with active tuberculosis, from 15 to 18 patients with past tuberculosis, from five of nine contacts of patients with tuberculosis, and from nine of 54 patients with lung disease unrelated to tuberculosis. The 65kDa Ag DNA was identified in samples from all patients with active and past tuberculosis, from contacts of patients with tuberculosis, and from 14 of 42 patients with non-tuberculous lung diseases. CONCLUSION: These data suggest that the presence of IS6110 DNA correlates more closely with a tuberculosis related diagnosis than that of 65kDa Ag DNA and that both DNAs are found in most subjects with past tuberculosis or contacts of patients with tuberculosis. This may limit the clinical usefulness of these tests.
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