Background: In bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients, the widespread use of preemptive cytomegalovirus (CMV) antiviral therapy necessitates faster, more precise, and more sensitive quantitative laboratory methods for serial viral load monitoring. Methods: We developed a novel CMV viral load assay using real-time PCR of plasma DNA prepared by an automated robotic workstation. Fluorescent hybridization probes directed at the glycoprotein B (gB) gene (or EcoRI D region) of CMV were used to detect and quantify PCR products. The β-globin gene was amplified in parallel to control for the efficiency of the extraction and PCR steps. Results: The assay was linear (R = 0.999) from a lower detection limit of 125 copies/mL to 5 × 109 copies/mL with a PCR efficiency of 1.975 (gB) or 2.02 (EcoRI D). The viral loads determined by PCRs directed at these two different viral targets were no different (n = 53; R = 0.928). The interassay CV was 3.5%, and the intraassay CV was 1-4%. Compared with a commercially available quantitative competitive PCR assay (Roche MONITOR; R = 0.59), the mean CMV viral load by real-time PCR was 3.1 times higher (mean ratio; P = 0.002). The diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of the real-time assay were 96% and 100%, respectively (n = 147), compared with 74% and 98% for a qualitative PCR assay (Roche AMPLICOR). On a subset of samples, the diagnostic sensitivity of viral culture was no greater than 50% (n = 44). Of 1115 clinical referral samples from 252 patients, 10% of the samples and 18% of the patients had low-level CMV viremia (median, 500 copies/mL). In this predominantly (85%) bone marrow transplant testing cohort, serial CMV viral load results were the predominant clinical trigger for the initiation, monitoring, and cessation of preemptive antiviral therapy. Conclusions: The combination of automated DNA preparation and semiautomated real-time fluorescent PCR detection allows for a sensitive, precise, and accurate high-throughput assay of CMV viral load that can be used as the laboratory trigger for preemptive antiviral therapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Biochemistry