Retrospective review of clinical utility of shotgun metagenomic sequencing testing of cerebrospinal fluid from a U.S. Tertiary Care Medical Center

Kyle G. Rodino, Michel Toledano, Andrew P. Norgan, Bobbi S. Pritt, Matthew J. Binnicker, Joseph D. Yao, Allen J. Aksamit, Robin Patel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shotgun metagenomic sequencing can detect nucleic acids from bacteria, fungi, viruses, and/or parasites in clinical specimens; however, little data exist to guide its optimal application to clinical practice. We retrospectively reviewed results of shotgun metagenomic sequencing testing requested on cerebrospinal fluid samples submitted to an outside reference laboratory from December 2017 through December 2019. Of the 53 samples from Mayo Clinic patients, 47 were requested by neurologists, with infectious diseases consultation in 23 cases. The majority of patients presented with difficult-to-diagnose subacute or chronic conditions. Positive results were reported for 9 (17%) Mayo Clinic patient samples, with 6 interpreted as likely contamination. Potential pathogens reported included bunyavirus, human herpesvirus 7, and enterovirus D-68, ultimately impacting care in two cases. Twentyseven additional samples were submitted from Mayo Clinic Laboratories reference clients, with positive results reported for three (11%): Two with potential pathogens (West Nile virus and Toxoplasma gondii) and one with Streptococcus species with other bacteria below the reporting threshold (considered to represent contamination). Of 68 negative results, 10 included comments on decreased sensitivity due to high DNA background (n=5), high RNA background (n=1), insufficient RNA read depth (n=3), or quality control (QC) failure with an external RNA control (n=1). The overall positive-result rate was 15% (12/80), with 58% (7/12) of these interpreted as being inconsistent with the patient's clinical presentation. Overall, potential pathogens were found in a low percentage of cases, and positive results were often of unclear clinical significance. Testing was commonly employed in cases of diagnostic uncertainty and when immunotherapy was being considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01729-20
JournalJournal of clinical microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Cerebrospinal fluid
  • Metagenomics
  • Next-generation sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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