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Mycobacterium tuberculosis and non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are clinically different, and the rapid detection and differentiation of M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC) and NTM is crucial for patient management and infection control. Given the slow growth of most pathogenic mycobacteria, nucleic acid amplification assays are excellent tools for direct identification of mycobacteria in clinical specimens. Recently, a multiplex real-time PCR assay was developed that can directly detect 20 mycobacterial species in clinical specimens. Here, we evaluated the diagnostic performance of the assay for diagnosing mycobacterial disease under routine laboratory conditions.A total of 3334 specimens collected from 1437 patients suspected of tuberculosis infection were subjected to acid-fast bacilli staining, conventional culture and the multiplex real-time PCR assay. To evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the assay, the overall diagnosis of tuberculosis was defined by positive culture plus medical history, and the 2007 American Thoracic Society and Infectious Disease Society of America diagnostic criteria for NTM disease were applied.The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value were 87.5%, 99.6%, 96.1% and 98.5%, respectively, for the detection of MTBC isolates and 53.3%, 99.9%, 95.2%, and 98.9%, respectively, for detecting NTM isolates.Thus, the assay can correctly differentiate between MTBC and NTM isolates in clinical specimens and would be a useful tool for the rapid differentiation of tuberculosis and NTM disease, despite its limited sensitivity for the diagnosis of NTM disease.