Test Catalog

Interpretive Handbook

Test 8205 :
Mycobacteria and Nocardia Culture

Clinical Information Discusses physiology, pathophysiology, and general clinical aspects, as they relate to a laboratory test

Mycobacteria species are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality in both immunocompromised and immunocompetent hosts. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the causative agent of tuberculosis and it kills nearly 2 million people in the world each year. Nontuberculous mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium avium complex and Mycobacterium abscessus cause a variety of infections (eg, respiratory, skin, and soft tissue) and are important to detect and correctly identify in order to aid in clinical decision making. There are more than 170 recognized species of mycobacteria and identification of these organisms to the species level is often required to help guide appropriate therapy. Although there are direct detection methods available for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, growth of the organism on culture media is still necessary to allow for antimicrobial susceptibility testing. At this time, direct molecular detection methods are lacking for the nontuberculous mycobacteria and growth in culture is critical for identification and antimicrobial susceptibility testing.


Nocardia species and other aerobic actinomycetes (eg, Tsukamurella species, Gordonia species, Rhodococcus species) are also important causes of disease and isolation on culture media is important to facilitate identification and antimicrobial susceptibility testing. Nocardia and the other aerobic actinomycetes grow well on mycobacterial medium and, therefore, ordering a mycobacterial culture is recommended when infection with this group of organisms is suspected.

Useful For Suggests clinical disorders or settings where the test may be helpful

Detection and identification of Mycobacteria species, Nocardia species and other aerobic actinomycetes


Identification is performed using the Hologic/GenProbe AccuProbes for selected Mycobacteria species, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, or 500 base pair 16S rRNA gene sequencing.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex species identification can be done upon request using rapid PCR targeting the regions of difference (RD) genomic areas.

Interpretation Provides information to assist in interpretation of the test results

A final negative report is issued after 60 days incubation.


Positive cultures are reported as soon as detected.

Cautions Discusses conditions that may cause diagnostic confusion, including improper specimen collection and handling, inappropriate test selection, and interfering substances

Recovery of mycobacteria is dependent on the number of organisms present in the specimen, specimen collection methods, methods of processing, and patient factors such as the use of antimycobacteria therapy.


The use of BBL MGIT PANTA antibiotic mixture, although necessary for all nonsterile specimens, may have inhibitory effects on some mycobacteria.


Alert the laboratory if Mycobacterium genavense is suspected, as this species requires addition of mycobactin J to the culture medium for optimal growth and recovery.

Reference Values Describes reference intervals and additional information for interpretation of test results. May include intervals based on age and sex when appropriate. Intervals are Mayo-derived, unless otherwise designated. If an interpretive report is provided, the reference value field will state this.


Clinical References Provides recommendations for further in-depth reading of a clinical nature

1. Pfyffer GE, Palicova F: Mycobacterium: general characteristics; laboratory detection, and staining procedures. In Manual of Clinical Microbiology. 10th edition. Vol 1, Edited by J Versalovic, KC Carroll, G Funke, et al: Washington, DC: ASM Press. 2011 pp 472-502

2. Tortoli E: Microbiological features and clinical relevance of new species of the genus Mycobacterium. Clin Microbiol Rev 2014;27(4):727-752 doi:10.1128/CMR.00035-14

3. Wilson WW: Nocardiosis: updates and clinical overview. Mayo Clin Proc 2012;87(7):403-407

Tell Us What You Think