AIMS: To assess the performance of 2-sucrose-phosphate based transport medium (2-SP) for the detection of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae by an automated commercial polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and ligase chain reaction (LCR) compared to centrifugation culture on McCoy cells for C trachomatis. Second, to compare both amplification systems for initial diagnostic testing of a low prevalence population for sexually transmitted diseases. METHODS: Four hundred and eighty one consecutive urogenital and conjunctival specimens were examined. All tests were performed on the same specimen collected with a dacron swab and transported in 2-SP medium. Samples that were positive by culture or by both PCR and LCR were considered to be true positives. RESULTS: The prevalences of C trachomatis and of N gonorrhoeae were 2.7% and 0.4%, respectively. PCR had a resolved sensitivity and specificity of 100% and 99.8%, respectively, for C trachomatis, and 100% and 98.9%, respectively, for N gonorrhoeae. LCR was 100% sensitive and specific for both pathogens. The resolved sensitivity of the shell vial assay was 85%. No culture positive sample would have been missed by PCR or LCR. The inhibition rate for PCR was 4.8%. CONCLUSIONS: 2-SP medium proved to be suitable for both PCR and LCR. It is not limited to any one test manufacturer and allows the performance of amplification techniques and viral and chlamydia culture from the same specimen. The LCR was more reliable than PCR on initial testing. However, hands on time is longer, and no amplification control is available for LCR.