Insight into the intrinsic sensitivity of the PCR assay used to detect CMV infection in amniotic fluid specimens

Boaz Avidor, Gabi Efrat, Miriam Weinberg, Zipi Kra-Oz, Judith Satinger, Stella Mitrani-Rosenbaum, Yuval Yaron, Lester Shulman, Michal Tepperberg-Oikawa, Dana Wolf, Stephen A. Berger, Shlomo Lipitz, Ella Mendelson, Michael Giladi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: PCR detection of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) DNA in amniotic fluid (AF) is the most sensitive tool for diagnosis of fetal infection, but has sub-optimal sensitivity. It has been suggested that inhibition by AF reduces the sensitivity of this assay, however this assumption has never been thoroughly studied. Several PCR assays have been shown to improve sensitivity, but comparative studies are insufficient to choose the optimal approach. Objectives: To assess the effect of AF inhibition on PCR sensitivity and to determine the most sensitive assay for diagnosing fetal infection. Study design: Plasmid containing HCMV DNA was tested by PCR, in water and in non-infected AF, to assess the inhibitory effect of AF. Twenty-three AF-infected samples were tested by various PCR protocols. AF supernatant, with or without DNA extraction, and AF cells, were assayed by single-round and semi-nested PCR. Viral load was measured in the supernatant by a commercial quantitative PCR kit. Results: The plasmid model demonstrated that single-round PCR was 2000-fold less sensitive in AF compared with water. Semi-nested PCR was only 10-fold less sensitive. Single-round PCR was 30% sensitive in HCMV-infected AF supernatants, and detected viral loads higher than 2.3×106 viral copies/ml. Extraction of DNA from the supernatant increased the sensitivity of this assay to 89% and the detection limit to 5.2×104copies/ml. Semi-nested PCR performed on supernatant, with and without DNA extraction, was 96% and 100% sensitive, respectively, with a detection threshold of 3.8×103copies/ml. Single-round and semi-nested PCR were 89% and 100% sensitive, respectively, in cells. The commercial quantitative PCR assay was 100% sensitive. Conclusions: AF supernatant is inhibitory to PCR. The two most sensitive assays were semi-nested PCR performed on DNA extracted from the supernatant and the commercial quantitative PCR kit. Of these two, the latter is standardized, non-labor-intensive, and allows minimal opportunity for contamination, thereby making it the preferred method for diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-270
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Virology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Amniotic fluid
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)


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