Recent sequence variation in probe binding site affected detection of respiratory syncytial virus group B by real-time RT-PCR

Kamau E, Agoti CN, Lewa CS, Oketch J, Owor BE, Otieno GP, Bett A, Cane PA, Nokes DJ
J Clin Virol. 2017;88

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BACKGROUND: Direct immuno-fluorescence test (IFAT) and multiplex real-time RT-PCR have been central to RSV diagnosis in Kilifi, Kenya. Recently, these two methods showed discrepancies with an increasing number of PCR undetectable RSV-B viruses. OBJECTIVES: Establish if mismatches in the primer and probe binding sites could have reduced real-time RT-PCR sensitivity. STUDY DESIGN: Nucleoprotein (N) and glycoprotein (G) genes were sequenced for real-time RT-PCR positive and negative samples. Primer and probe binding regions in N gene were checked for mismatches and phylogenetic analyses done to determine molecular epidemiology of these viruses. New primers and probe were designed and tested on the previously real-time RT-PCR negative samples. RESULTS: N gene sequences revealed 3 different mismatches in the probe target site of PCR negative, IFAT positive viruses. The primers target sites had no mismatches. Phylogenetic analysis of N and G genes showed that real-time RT-PCR positive and negative samples fell into distinct clades. Newly designed primers-probe pair improved detection and recovered previous PCR undetectable viruses. CONCLUSIONS: An emerging RSV-B variant is undetectable by a quite widely used real-time RT-PCR assay due to polymorphisms that influence probe hybridization affecting PCR accuracy.