Detection of Norwalk virus in stool specimens by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and nonradioactive oligoprobes.


A reverse transcriptase (RT)-polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-oligoprobe (OP), or RT-PCR-OP, method was developed for the detection of the Norwalk virus, which causes acute, epidemic gastroenteritis, in stool specimens. The Norwalk virus genome regions encoding the following two proteins were amplified by RT-PCR: the RNA polymerase (260-bp product) and a putative immunogenic protein (224-bp product). The resulting DNA fragments (amplicons) were hybridized to a digoxigenin-labeled internal OP specific to each amplicon. The detection limit of Norwalk virus, as determined by the endpoint of RT-PCR amplification for serially diluted, positive stool specimens, was similar to the actual virion titer as estimated by electron microscopy and at least 100-fold greater than the titer determined by radioimmunoassay (RIA). The RT-PCR-OP assay was specific for Norwalk virus and negative for other enteric viruses, including human and animal caliciviruses, hepatitis E virus, Snow Mountain agent, astroviruses, 16 human enteroviruses, and 5 human rotaviruses. Components of fecal specimens that interfere with RT-PCR were removed successfully by Sephadex G-200 gel chromatography. Of 20 stool specimens from human volunteers that were positive for Norwalk virus by RIA, a specific RT-PCR-OP result was obtained in 95% (19 of 20) of the samples by using the immunogenic protein primers and 75% (15 of 20) by using the polymerase primers. Twenty-six stool specimens from asymptomatic children and adults were negative by the Norwalk virus RT-PCR-OP. RT-PCR-OP detected Norwalk virus in the 4 of 21 coded fecal specimens that were also positive by enzyme immunoassay. Two samples that were positive by RIA or enzyme immunoassay were negative by RT-PCR, perhaps because viral RNA was not present or RT-PCR inhibitors were not adequately removed.

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