Introduction: During the last decades, molds in the indoor environment have raised concern regarding their potential adverse health effects. The genera Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and yeasts, the most common fungi found indoors, include species with high allergenic and toxigenic potentials. Identification of these molds is generally performed by microscopy. This method has, however, some limitations as it requires mycologists with high expertise while identification is often limited to the genus level. Therefore, it is necessary to seek for fast and accurate tools, such as Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDITOF MS), enabling an identification to the species level and guiding general practitioners in their search for the underlying cause of a health problem.
Methods: In this study, 149 fungal air and dust isolates from 43 dwellings in Brussels were taken in collaboration with Brussels Environment RCIB/CRIPI and identified by both microscopy and MALDI-TOF MS in Sciensano's Indoor Mycology laboratory. Spectra obtained via MALDI-TOF MS were compared with data available in an in-house created reference database containing over 1,700 strains from the BCCM/IHEM fungal collection.
Results: A total of 149 isolates including 18 yeasts and 131 filamentous fungi were analyzed. Microscopic analysis indicated 18 yeast species and allowed identification of 79 isolates (53%) to the genus level. Only 36 isolates (24%) could be identified to the species complex level. Fifteen molds (10%) could not be identified, and one was indicated as sterile mycelia. No isolate was identified to species level. MALDI-TOF MS analysis identified 137 (92%) of the 149 isolates with a logscore > 1.7. Of these 137 isolates, 129 (87%) were identified to the species level (logscore > 2.0). For only 8 isolates (5%), identification was limited to the genus/section level (1.7 < logscore <2.0), and 12 isolates (8%) could not be identified.
Conclusion: A comparison of results obtained with both methods indicates an increased precision in identifications with MALDI-TOF MS analysis for 92% of the isolates, emphasizing its highly added value to the standard microscopic analysis in routine practice. In addition, MALDI-TOF MS also enables to assess the accuracy of microscopic identifications.