AIMS--To develop a sensitive, direct, automated method for the measurement of serum and red cell thiamin. METHODS--A microbiological assay using a chloramphenicol resistant strain of Lactobacillus fermenti as the test organism was developed. Addition of chloramphenicol and cycloheximide to the assay medium suppressed bacterial and yeast contamination and enabled tests to be automated without recourse to aseptic procedures. Evaluation of the assay included precision analysis and estimation of thiamin recovery. Results obtained on red cell extracts were compared with an established colorimetric (thiochrome) method. RESULTS--Acceptable intrabatch and interbatch precision was obtained and good recovery of thiamin added to serum was obtained. Non-parametric reference ranges based on the results from 505 healthy people were: serum thiamin 11.3-35.0 nmol/l and red cell thiamin 190-400 nmol/l. Results were not age or gender related. The method gave results for red cell thiamin which were significantly higher than those obtained with an established thiochrome method. CONCLUSIONS--This automated microbiological assay is sensitive to 2.0 nmol/l of thiamin and allows tests to be set up at the rate of 100 per hour and after 20-22 hours allows incubation results to be read at 60 per hour. The method has proved reliable, suitable for the assay of large numbers of samples, and relatively inexpensive to perform.
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