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Predicting the sensitivity and specificity of published real-time PCR assays

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Author(s): Lemmon Gordon | Gardner Shea

Journal: Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials
ISSN 1476-0711

Volume: 7;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 18;
Date: 2008;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Abstract Background In recent years real-time PCR has become a leading technique for nucleic acid detection and quantification. These assays have the potential to greatly enhance efficiency in the clinical laboratory. Choice of primer and probe sequences is critical for accurate diagnosis in the clinic, yet current primer/probe signature design strategies are limited, and signature evaluation methods are lacking. Methods We assessed the quality of a signature by predicting the number of true positive, false positive and false negative hits against all available public sequence data. We found real-time PCR signatures described in recent literature and used a BLAST search based approach to collect all hits to the primer-probe combinations that should be amplified by real-time PCR chemistry. We then compared our hits with the sequences in the NCBI taxonomy tree that the signature was designed to detect. Results We found that many published signatures have high specificity (almost no false positives) but low sensitivity (high false negative rate). Where high sensitivity is needed, we offer a revised methodology for signature design which may designate that multiple signatures are required to detect all sequenced strains. We use this methodology to produce new signatures that are predicted to have higher sensitivity and specificity. Conclusion We show that current methods for real-time PCR assay design have unacceptably low sensitivities for most clinical applications. Additionally, as new sequence data becomes available, old assays must be reassessed and redesigned. A standard protocol for both generating and assessing the quality of these assays is therefore of great value. Real-time PCR has the capacity to greatly improve clinical diagnostics. The improved assay design and evaluation methods presented herein will expedite adoption of this technique in the clinical lab.
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