In this study we compared culture, acid-fast stains, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the detection of acid-fast organisms in fecal and tissue samples from Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) that were experimentally inoculated intravenously with Mycobacterium avium. For culture, three different culture media (modified Herrold egg yolk with mycobactin; Lowenstein–Jensen [L-J]; and L-J with cyclohexamide, naladixic acid, and lincomycin) were tested to determine which medium had the greatest success in isolating mycobacteria. Acid-fast staining methods included Ziehl–Neelsen (Z-N) and Truant. The PCR assay detected mycobacterial DNA with primers specific for the 65-kD heat shock protein gene.
Culture was considered the “gold standard.” Compared with other culture media, L-J yielded more positive cultures and greater numbers of colonies on positive tubes, and incubation times were shorter. Mycobacterium avium was isolated from all of the harvested tissue samples (liver, spleen, and intestine) of inoculated birds. Mycobacteria were isolated from 53% (69/130) of fecal samples from inoculated birds. As the disease advanced, fecal culture was positive on more culture days, indicating that the culture-positive rate was higher later in the course of the disease.
Compared with culture, all of the laboratory methods had 100% specificity for the tissue samples. Sensitivities for the tissue samples were 82.6% (Z-N), 95.7% (Truant), and 100% (PCR). For the fecal samples, the specificity was >95% for all methods. Sensitivities compared with fecal culture were 7.2% (Z-N), 30.4% (Truant), and 20.3% (PCR). Tissue and fecal samples from the two control birds were negative for acid-fast organisms by any method.
These results were comparable with clinical cases of avian mycobacteriosis where culture and PCR of tissue samples seem to be the most sensitive and specific laboratory tests and evaluation of fecal samples still remains challenging. On the basis of the results of this study, identification of mycobacteria in fecal samples from Japanese quail can be optimized by repeated cultures and Truant acid-fast staining of fecal smears.