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Quantitave Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) for Cytomegalovirus (CMV) DNA provides highly sensitive and specific data for detecting CMV as well as monitoring the infection and determining the appropriate antiviral strategy.To determine the clinical application of a recently introduced real-time (RT) PCR assay for CMV DNA quantitation in peripheral blood leukocytes (PBLs) and defining its correlation with the commercial quantitative end-point (EP) PCR method COBAS AMPLICOR CMV Monitor and pp65 antigen test. Sequential PBL samples (n=158) from 32 liver transplanted patients with CMV asymptomatic infection and positive for CMV DNA by EP-PCR were retrospectively analysed with RT-PCR and studied according to pp65 antigen levels. A good correlation was found between RT-PCR and pp65 antigen test (r=0.691) and between the two PCR assays (r=0.761). RT-PCR data were significantly higher in pre-emptive treated patients (those with >20 pp65+positive cells, median value: 3.8 log10 copies/500,000 PBLs) than in not-treated ones (2.9 logs).According to pp65 levels of 0, 1-10, 11-20, 21-50, 51-100 and >100 positive cells/200,000 PBLs, median CMV DNA load by RT-PCR was 2.6, 3.0, 3.6, 4.0. 4.2 and 4.8, log10 copies/ 500,000 PBLs, respectively (EP-PCR CMV DNA levels: 2. 8, 2.9, 3.8, 3.7, 3.9 and 4.0 logs). For samples with >20 pp65+cells, that is above the level at which pre-emptive therapy was started, RT-PCR values were significantly higher than in groups with less than 20 pp65+cells, whereas EP-PCR values did not significantly differ and showed a slower progression rate. Dilutions of DNA from CMV AD169 strain were used to probe RT-PCR reproducibility (between and intra-assay variability < 2%) and sensitivity (100% detection rate at 10 copies/reaction, 28.5% with EP-PCR). A significant improvement is coming from the introduction of RT-PCR to the study of CMV DNA dynamics in differently CMV infected patients due to a more reliable quantitation of CMV DNA for moderate and high DNA level compared to EP-PCR with better sensitivity and specificity. RTPCR gives more precise informations on viral load kinetics for evaluating the infection progress and assessing antiviral response, significantly simplifying and accelerating the process of producing a reliable quantification of CMV DNA for clinical purposes.
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