The free-living amoeba Balamuthia mandrillaris may cause fatal encephalitis both in immunocompromised and in – apparently – immunocompetent humans and other mammalian species. Rapid, specific, sensitive, and reliable detection requiring little pathogen-specific expertise is an absolute prerequisite for a successful therapy and a welcome tool for both experimental and epidemiological research.
A real-time polymerase chain reaction assay using TaqMan® probes (real-time PCR) was established specifically targeting the RNase P gene of B. mandrillaris amoebae. The assay detected at least 2 (down to 0.5) genomes of B. mandrillaris grown in axenic culture. It did not react with DNA from closely related Acanthamoeba (3 species), nor with DNA from Toxoplasma gondii, Leishmania major, Pneumocystis murina, Mycobacterium bovis (BCG), human brain, various mouse organs, or from human and murine cell lines. The assay efficiently detected B. mandrillaris DNA in spiked cell cultures, spiked murine organ homogenates, B. mandrillaris-infected mice, and CNS tissue-DNA preparations from 2 patients with proven cerebral balamuthiasis. This novel primer set was successfully combined with a published set that targets the B. mandrillaris 18S rRNA gene in a duplex real-time PCR assay to ensure maximum specificity and as a precaution against false negative results.
A real-time PCR assay for B. mandrillaris amoebae is presented, that is highly specific, sensitive, and reliable and thus suited both for diagnosis and for research.