Next-generation sequencing in neuropathologic diagnosis of infections of the nervous system

Steven L. Salzberg, Florian P. Breitwieser, Anupama Kumar, Haiping Hao, Peter Burger, Fausto J. Rodriguez, Michael Lim, Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, Gary L. Gallia, Jeffrey A. Tornheim, Michael T. Melia, Cynthia L. Sears, Carlos A. Pardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To determine the feasibility of next-generation sequencing (NGS) microbiome approaches in the diagnosis of infectious disorders in brain or spinal cord biopsies in patients with suspected CNS infections. Methods: In a prospective pilot study, we applied NGS in combination with a new computational analysis pipeline to detect the presence of pathogenic microbes in brain or spinal cord biopsies from 10 patients with neurologic problems indicating possible infection but for whom conventional clinical and microbiology studies yielded negative or inconclusive results. Results: Direct DNA and RNA sequencing of brain tissue biopsies generated 8.3 million to 29.1 million sequence reads per sample, which successfully identified with high confidence the infectious agent in 3 patients for whom validation techniques confirmed the pathogens identified by NGS. Although NGS was unable to identify with precision infectious agents in the remaining cases, it contributed to the understanding of neuropathologic processes in 5 others, demonstrating the power of large-scale unbiased sequencing as a novel diagnostic tool. Clinical outcomes were consistent with the findings yielded by NGS on the presence or absence of an infectious pathogenic process in 8 of 10 cases, and were noncontributory in the remaining 2. Conclusions: NGS-guided metagenomic studies of brain, spinal cord, or meningeal biopsies offer the possibility for dramatic improvements in our ability to detect (or rule out) a wide range of CNS pathogens, with potential benefits in speed, sensitivity, and cost. NGS-based microbiome approaches present a major new opportunity to investigate the potential role of infectious pathogens in the pathogenesis of neuroinflammatory disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere251
JournalNeurology: Neuroimmunology and NeuroInflammation
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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