Clinical significance of low-colony count scotochromogen nontuberculous mycobacteria

Jung Yeon Lee, Mi Na Kim, Hee Jung Chung, Kyung Ran Jun, Hee Jin Choi, Hyeyoung Lee, Eun Young Joung, Yeon Mok Oh, Sang Do Lee, Woo Sung Kim, Dong Soon Kim, Won Dong Kim, Tae Sun Shim

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Background: Even though it has been suggested that low-colony, scotochromogen nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are usually contaminants and not true pathogens, evidence for this hypothesis has not been provided. This study investigated the colony characteristics, organism identification, and clinical significance of low-colony scotochromogen. Methods: The laboratory cultured 6,898 respiratory clinical specimens for an examination of mycobacteria over a three-month period. A low-colony count was arbitrarily defined as ≤ 20 colonies. This study analyzed the recovery rate of the mycobacteria, the number of colonies and their gross characteristics, and their clinical significance. PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis was carried out to identify the NTM species. NTM pulmonary disease was defined according to the American Thoracic Society. Results: A total of 6,898 respiratory specimens for mycobacterium were cultured. of these, 263 (3.8%) grew NTM, and 382 (5.5%) grew M. tuberculosis. Of the 263 cultured NTM specimens, 124 (47.1%) were scotochromogens. The smear-positive rate was significantly lower in these scotochromogens (4.8%) than in the non-scotochromogens (23.7%) (p<0.05). The most common isolates were M. gordonae (83/102, 81.4%) in the scotochromogens, and MAC (52/121, 43.0%) in the non-scotochromogens. Even though three out of 113 patients with a low-colony scotochromogen has been diagnosed with NTM pulmonary disease, the isolated scotochromogen was not considered to be the cause of the NTM disease but was just a contaminant. Conclusion: In this study, the most common isolate of a low-colony count scotochromogen was M. gordonae, which appeared to be contaminants and not true pathogens. Greater efforts in the quality control of a mycobacterium laboratory are needed in cases where there is a high recovery rate of low-colony count scotochromogen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-46
Number of pages8
JournalTuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005 Jul

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Infectious Diseases


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