Reliability of nested PCR for detection of Chlamydia pneumoniae DNA in atheromas: Results from a multicenter study applying standardized protocols

Petra Apfalter, Ojan Assadian, Francesco Blasi, Jens Boman, Charlotte A. Gaydos, Michael Kundi, Athanasios Makristathis, Marion Nehr, Manfred L. Rotter, Alexander M. Hirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


The present multicenter study was designed to find explanations for the discrepancies in the reported rates of detection of Chlamydia pneumoniae DNA in endarterectomy specimens. Coded identical sets of (i) a C. pneumoniae DNA dilution series (panel 1; n = 10), (ii) spiked control tissue specimens (panel 2; n = 10 specimens, including 5 negative controls), and (iii) endarterectomy specimens (panel 3; 15 atheromas, 5 negative controls) were analyzed at four laboratories by three standardized DNA extraction methods in each laboratory and a nested touchdown PCR protocol targeting the ompA gene of C. pneumoniae. Panel 1 samples were correctly identified as positive to levels of 0.3 inclusion-forming units (IFU)/PCR mixture (100%) and 0.03 IFU/PCR mixture (50%). All negative controls were correctly reported as negative. Panel 2 samples were identified as C. pneumoniae positive to levels of 0.01 IFU/PCR mixture (100%) and 0.005 IFU/PCR mixture (91%), independent of the DNA extraction method used, and only one false-positive result was reported. For panel 3 samples, 5 of 240 (2%) analyses (in which DNA extractions and PCR were performed at the same laboratory) were positive; the positive specimens were from three endarterectomy specimens and two negative controls. After exchange of DNA extracts between laboratories, 13 of 15 atheroma samples were C. pneumoniae DNA positive in at least 1 of a series of 48 analyses per atheroma sample; however, the overall positivity rate did not exceed 5% (33 of 720 analyses) and therefore was lower than that for the negative controls (8%; 19 of 240 analyses). Not a single positive result could be achieved when all panel 3 extracts (n = 240 analyses) were reamplified by a 16S rRNA PCR followed by hybridization with a C. pneumoniae-specific probe. Statistical analyses demonstrated that positive results did not occur in an independent and random fashion and could most likely be explained by amplicon carryover at the nested PCR level as well as amplicon introduction during DNA extraction, but not by the patterns of distribution of very low target levels or a certain DNA extraction protocol. The results of studies by nested PCR for detection of the prevalence of C. pneumoniae will always be questionable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4428-4434
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of clinical microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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