Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is the most important bacterial pathogen in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Currently, routine bacteriological culture on selective/non- selective culture media is the cornerstone of microbiological detection. The aim of this study was to compare isolation rates of PA by conventional culture and molecular (PCR) detection directly from sputum.
Adult patients (n = 57) attending the regional adult CF centre in Northern Ireland, provided fresh sputum following airways clearance exercise. Following processing of the specimen with sputasol (1:1 vol), the specimen was examined for the presence of PA by plating onto a combination of culture media (Pseudomonas isolation agar, Blood agar & McConkey agar). In addition, from the same specimen, genomic bacterial DNA was extracted (1 ml) and was amplified employing two sequence-specific targets, namely (i) the outer membrane protein (oprL) gene locus and (ii) the exotoxin A (ETA) gene locus.
By sputum culture, there were 30 patients positive for PA, whereas by molecular techniques, there were 35 positive patients. In 39 patients (22 PA +ve & 17 PA -ve), there was complete agreement between molecular and conventional detection and with both PCR gene loci. The oprL locus was more sensitive than the ETA locus, as the former was positive in 10 more patients and there were no patients where the ETA was positive and the oprL target negative. Where a PCR +ve/culture -ve result was recorded (10 patients), we followed these patients and recorded that 5 of these patients converted to being culture-positive at times ranging from 4–17 months later, with a mean lag time of 4.5 months.
This study indicates that molecular detection of PA in sputum employing the oprL gene target, is a useful technique in the early detection of PA, gaining on average 4.5 months over conventional culture. It now remains to be established whether aggressive antibiotic intervention at this earlier stage, based on PCR detection, has any significant benefits on clinical outcome.