The development of nucleic acid-based technologies has improved the sensiti
vity, specificity and speed of detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in c
linical samples. Both commercially available and 'in-house' polymerase chai
n reaction (PCR) systems are in use, and a significant number of reports co
mpare such systems with more traditional diagnostic tools for tuberculosis.
Few studies, however, have focused on the reproducibility of the results w
hen submitting a sample batch to PCR in different laboratories, especially
in developing countries. Consequently, PCR results obtained from six labora
tories in six different Latin American countries for samples reconstituted
with defined amounts of M. tuberculosis cells were evaluated. Each laborato
ry used specific conditions of sample processing, nucleic acid amplificatio
n and amplicon detection. Analysis of results allowed large differences in
sensitivity and specificity to be observed. We conclude that in its present
setting, inhouse PCR cannot be used as a single diagnostic tool for tuberc
ulosis, and that special care needs to be taken upon interpretation of resu
lts by inclusion of a proper number of positive and negative controls.