Pneumocystis PCR: It Is Time to Make PCR the Test of Choice
We compared the presence of P. carinii in clinical specimens as detected by standard cytomorphologic techniques with amplification of P. carinii-specific DNA by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Results correlated in 33 of 37 instances (89%): nine specimens were positive by both PCR and morphology; 24 specimens were negative by both techniques. Two specimens from one patient were obtained 3 days apart. The first specimen was both cytologically and PCR negative, while the second specimen was both cytologically and PCR positive for P. carinii. At least in some instances, therefore, PCR is no more sensitive than morphology, and other factors such as specimen adequacy are more important. Twelve of the 24 negative specimens were from patients with prior histories of P. carinii pneumonia, suggesting that recurrent disease may be from reacquisition of organisms in previously exposed individuals, rather than reactivation of latent organisms. Discrepant results included three morphologically negative specimens that were positive by PCR. It remains to be determined whether the increased sensitivity of PCR in these cases is real or artifactual. One morphologically positive specimen was negative by PCR. Polymerase chain reaction correlates well with cytomorphologic diagnosis of P. carinii pneumonia and may be a valuable diagnostic and epidemiologic tool.