Background: Rapid, reliable, and widespread testing is required to curtail the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Current gold-standard nucleic acid tests are hampered by supply shortages in critical reagents including nasal swabs, RNA extraction kits, personal protective equipment, instrumentation, and labor. Methods: To overcome these challenges, we developed a rapid colorimetric assay using reverse-transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) optimized on human saliva samples without an RNA purification step. We describe the optimization of saliva pretreatment protocols to enable analytically sensitive viral detection by RT-LAMP. We optimized the RT-LAMP reaction conditions and implemented high-throughput unbiased methods for assay interpretation. We tested whether saliva pretreatment could also enable viral detection by conventional reverse-transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Finally, we validated these assays on clinical samples. Results: The optimized saliva pretreatment protocol enabled analytically sensitive extraction-free detection of SARS-CoV-2 from saliva by colorimetric RT-LAMP or RT-qPCR. In simulated samples, the optimized RT-LAMP assay had a limit of detection of 59 (95% confidence interval: 44-104) particle copies per reaction. We highlighted the flexibility of LAMP assay implementation using 3 readouts: naked-eye colorimetry, spectrophotometry, and real-time fluorescence. In a set of 30 clinical saliva samples, colorimetric RT-LAMP and RT-qPCR assays performed directly on pretreated saliva samples without RNA extraction had accuracies greater than 90%. Conclusions: Rapid and extraction-free detection of SARS-CoV-2 from saliva by colorimetric RT-LAMP is a simple, sensitive, and cost-effective approach with broad potential to expand diagnostic testing for the virus causing COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-424
Number of pages10
JournalClinical chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021


  • COVID-19
  • LAMP
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • acute respiratory syndrome
  • cost-effective
  • high-throughput testing
  • point-of-care testing
  • preventive medicine
  • rapid diagnosis
  • saliva


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