OBJECTIVE: Bacteremia due to lactobacilli is uncommon, yet it is increasing in frequency, especially among immunosuppressed patients. In the clinical laboratory, lactobacilli must be subcultured from positive blood cultures before identification by traditional biochemical methods. Delays in diagnosis are significant because the organisms are inherently resistant to vancomycin, a drug frequently prescribed for empiric therapy for gram-positive bacteremia. Recently, we developed a rapid terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) diagnostic assay based on species-specific variations in the bacterial 16S rRNA gene. We sought to apply this technique to the identification of Lactobacillus spp. from three cases of bacteremia. DESIGN: The results of the T-RFLP analysis are compared with two standard biochemical identification methods. METHODS: Lactobacillus strains were isolated from positive clinical blood cultures. Initial suspect cultures were subcultured and characterized using an automated substrate hydrolysis system and Lactobacillus carbohydrate fermentation profiles. Further biochemical and molecular analyses were performed from isolates propagated in Lactobacillus MRS broth. DNA was extracted and the 16S rRNA gene sequenced. Two sets of fluorescent labeled primers targeting the 16S rRNA gene were used for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with chromosomal preparations from reference strains and blood isolates. The PCR products were digested with restriction enzymes and terminal-restriction fragment profile analysis performed. RESULTS: T-RFLP analysis correctly identified the Lactobacillus species in each case. T-RFLP analysis could be completed within 8 hours of obtaining a positive blood culture as compared to more than the 24 to 48 hours required for traditional culturing and biochemical characterizations. CONCLUSION: T-RFLP analysis allows for rapid identification of Lactobacillus directly from positive blood cultures and circumvents the requirement for subculture. Reduced diagnostic time has implications for duration of infection, the cost of patient care, length of hospitalization, development of broad-spectrum antibiotic resistance, and mortality due to bacteremia. T-RFLP profiling represents a highly reproducible and predictive source for identification of many organisms associated with bacteremia.
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