A quantitative one-step SYBR Green I-based reverse transcription (RT)-PCR system was developed for the detection and differentiation of four different dengue virus serotypes in acute-phase serum samples. A set of group- and serotype-specific primer pairs was designed against conserved sequences in the core region and evaluated for clinical diagnosis. A linear relationship was obtained between the amount of input RNA and cycle threshold (Ct) value over a range of 10 to 10(7) PFU per ml of cell culture-derived dengue viruses. The detection limit of the group-specific primer pair was between 4.1 and 43.5 PFU/ml for four dengue serotypes. The detection limit of each of the serotype-specific primer pairs was calculated to be 10 PFU/ml for dengue virus serotype 1 (DEN-1), 4.6 PFU/ml for DEN-2, 4.1 PFU/ml for DEN-3, and 5 PFU/ml for DEN-4. Comparisons between the one-step SYBR Green-based RT-PCR assay and the conventional cell culture method in the clinical diagnosis of dengue virus infection from acute-phase serum samples of confirmed dengue patients were performed. The results showed that 83 and 67% of 193 acute-phase serum samples tested were positive by the one-step SYBR Green-based RT-PCR method and cell culture method, respectively. Further analysis showed that the one-step SYBR Green-based RT-PCR method could detect twice as many acute-phase serum samples with positive dengue-specific immunoglobulin M (IgM) and/or IgG antibodies than cell culture method. Our results demonstrate the potential clinical application of the one-step SYBR Green I-based RT-PCR assay for the detection and differentiation of dengue virus RNA.