The polymerase chain reaction: a new tool for the understanding and diagnosis of HIV-1 infection at the molecular level

F. Coutlée, R. P. Viscidi, P. Saint-Antoine, A. Kessous, R. H. Yolken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is at present the most powerful analytical tool for detection of specific nucleic acid sequences. The method is based on the in vitro amplification of DNA segments before detection with conventional hybridization techniques or visualization following electrophoresis and staining. The current diagnostic methods for HIV-1 do not allow easy identification of subgroups of infected patients including infants born to seropositive mothers, individuals with delayed serological responses to the virus, infected patients with indeterminate serology results, and patients with dual retroviral infections. Furthermore, response to antiviral therapy cannot be evaluated with serological assays. The rationale for applying PCR in those situations is elaborated here. The applications of this technique for HIV-1 as a diagnostic test and for the understanding of the pathogenesis of this retrovirus are described. Potential limitations of this technique for diagnostic purposes include mainly the possibility of false-positive results due to contamination and false-negative reactions caused by Taq polymerase inhibition. Non-isotopic means for detection of amplified products have been described and should allow for a wider application of this technology. Modifications of PCR which make use of internal standards seem promising for quantitative analysis of nucleic acids. PCR has great potential for viral diagnosis but still requires further studies and better characterization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-259
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular and Cellular Probes
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1991


  • AIDS
  • HIV-1
  • PCR
  • hybridization
  • non-isotopic probes
  • viral diagnosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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