The vector homology problem in diagnostic nucleic acid hybridization of clinical specimens

R. F. Ambinder, Patricia Charache, S. Staal, P. Wright, M. Forman, S Diane Hayward, G. S. Hayward

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41 Scopus citations


Nucleic acid hybridization techniques using cloned probes are finding application in assays of clinical specimens in research and diagnostic laboratories. The probes that we and others have used are recombinant plasmids composed of viral inserts and bacterial plasmid vectors such as pBR322. We suspected that there was material homologous to pBR322 present in many clinical samples, because hybridization occurred in samples which lacked evidence of virus by other techniques. If the presence of this vector-homologous material was unrecognized, hybridization in the test sample might erroneously be interpreted as indicating the presence of viral sequences. In this paper we demonstrate specific hybridization of labeled pBR322 DNA with DNA from various clinical samples. Evidence is presented that nonspecific probe trapping could not account for this phenomenon. In mixing experiments, it is shown that contamination of clinical samples with bacteria would explain such a result. Approaches tested to circumvent this problem included the use of isolated insert probes, alternate cloning vectors, and cold competitor pBR322 DNA in prehybridization and hybridization mixes. None proved entirely satisfactory. We therefore emphasize that it is essential that all hybridization detection systems use a control probe of the vector alone in order to demonstrate the absence of material with vector homology in the specimen tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-20
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of clinical microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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