Role of fecal Clostridium difficile load in discrepancies between toxin tests and PCR: Is quantitation the next step in C. Difficile testing?

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Direct tests for Clostridium difficile are 30-50% more sensitive than tests for C. difficile toxins but the reasons for this discrepancy are incompletely understood. In addition to toxin degradation and strain differences, we hypothesized that C. difficile concentration could be important in determining whether toxins are detected in fecal samples. We performed standard curves on an FDAapproved real-time PCR test for the C. difficile tcdB gene (Xpert C. difficile/Epi, Cepheid) during a prospective comparison of a toxin immunoassay (Meridian Premier), PCR and toxigenic culture. Immunoassay-negative, PCR-positive samples were retested with a cell cytotoxin assay (TechLab). Among 107 PCR-positive samples, 46 (43.0%) had toxins detected by immunoassay and an additional 18 (16.8%) had toxin detected by the cytotoxin assay yielding 64 (59.8%) toxin-positive and 43 (40.2%) toxin-negative samples. Overall, toxin-negative samples with C. difficile had 101- 104 fewer DNA copies than toxin-positive samples and most discrepancies between toxin tests and PCR were associated with a significant difference in C. difficile quantity. Of the toxin-positive samples, 95% had ≥4.1 log10 C. difficile tcdBDNA copies/mL; 52% of immunoassay-negative samples and 70% of immunoassay and cytotoxin negative samples had <4.1 log10 C. difficile tcdB DNA copies/mL. These findings suggest that fecal C. difficile concentration is a major determinant of toxin detection and C. difficile quantitation may add to the diagnostic value of existing test methods. Future studies are needed to validate the utility of quantitation and determine the significance of low concentrations of C. difficile in the absence of detectable toxin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3295-3299
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

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