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Journal: The Journal of molecular diagnostics : JMD


We describe a single-color digital PCR assay that detects and quantifies cancer mutations directly from circulating DNA collected from the plasma of cancer patients. This approach relies on a double-stranded DNA intercalator dye and paired allele-specific DNA primer sets to determine an absolute count of both the mutation and wild-type-bearing DNA molecules present in the sample. The cell-free DNA assay uses an input of 1 ng of nonamplified DNA, approximately 300 genome equivalents, and has a molecular limit of detection of three mutation DNA genome-equivalent molecules per assay reaction. When using more genome equivalents as input, we demonstrated a sensitivity of 0.10% for detecting the BRAF V600E and KRAS G12D mutations. We developed several mutation assays specific to the cancer driver mutations of patients' tumors and detected these same mutations directly from the nonamplified, circulating cell-free DNA. This rapid and high-performance digital PCR assay can be configured to detect specific cancer mutations unique to an individual cancer, making it a potentially valuable method for patient-specific longitudinal monitoring.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Polymerase chain reaction, DNA replication, Gene duplication, Mutagen


The use of circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) as a biomarker in transplant recipients offers advantages over invasive tissue biopsy as a quantitative measure for detection of transplant rejection and immunosuppression optimization. However, the fraction of donor-derived cfDNA (dd-cfDNA) in transplant recipient plasma is low and challenging to quantify. Previously reported methods to measure dd-cfDNA require donor and recipient genotyping, which is impractical in clinical settings and adds cost. We developed a targeted next-generation sequencing assay that uses 266 single-nucleotide polymorphisms to accurately quantify dd-cfDNA in transplant recipients without separate genotyping. Analytical performance of the assay was characterized and validated using 1117 samples comprising the National Institute for Standards and Technology Genome in a Bottle human reference genome, independently validated reference materials, and clinical samples. The assay quantifies the fraction of dd-cfDNA in both unrelated and related donor-recipient pairs. The dd-cfDNA assay can reliably measure dd-cfDNA (limit of blank, 0.10%; limit of detection, 0.16%; limit of quantification, 0.20%) across the linear quantifiable range (0.2% to 16%) with across-run CVs of 6.8%. Precision was also evaluated for independently processed clinical sample replicates and is similar to across-run precision. Application of the assay to clinical samples from heart transplant recipients demonstrated increased levels of dd-cfDNA in patients with biopsy-confirmed rejection and decreased levels of dd-cfDNA after successful rejection treatment. This noninvasive clinical-grade sequencing assay can be completed within 3 days, providing the practical turnaround time preferred for transplanted organ surveillance.

Concepts: DNA, Biopsy, Measurement, Single-nucleotide polymorphism, Organ transplant, Detection limit, Quantitative research, Genotyping


Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has rapidly replaced Sanger sequencing as the method of choice for diagnostic gene-panel testing. For hereditary-cancer testing, the technical sensitivity and specificity of the assay are paramount as clinicians use results to make important clinical management and treatment decisions. There is significant debate within the diagnostics community regarding the necessity of confirming NGS variant calls by Sanger sequencing, considering that numerous laboratories report having 100% specificity from the NGS data alone. Here we report our results from 20,000 hereditary-cancer NGS panels spanning 47 genes, in which all 7845 nonpolymorphic variants were Sanger- sequenced. Of these, 98.7% were concordant between NGS and Sanger sequencing and 1.3% were identified as NGS false-positives, located mainly in complex genomic regions (A/T-rich regions, G/C-rich regions, homopolymer stretches, and pseudogene regions). Simulating a false-positive rate of zero by adjusting the variant-calling quality-score thresholds decreased the sensitivity of the assay from 100% to 97.8%, resulting in the missed detection of 176 Sanger-confirmed variants, the majority in complex genomic regions (n = 114) and mosaic mutations (n = 7). The data illustrate the importance of setting quality thresholds for panel testing only after thousands of samples have been processed and the necessity of Sanger confirmation of NGS variants to maintain the highest possible sensitivity.

Concepts: Type I and type II errors, Sensitivity and specificity


Newborn screening for cystic fibrosis enables early detection and management of this debilitating genetic disease. Implementing comprehensive CFTR analysis using Sanger sequencing as a component of confirmatory testing of all screen-positive newborns has remained impractical due to relatively lengthy turnaround times and high cost. Here, we describe CFseq, a highly sensitive, specific, rapid (<3 days), and cost-effective assay for comprehensive CFTR gene analysis from dried blood spots, the common newborn screening specimen. The unique design of CFseq integrates optimized dried blood spot sample processing, a novel multiplex amplification method from as little as 1 ng of genomic DNA, and multiplex next-generation sequencing of 96 samples in a single run to detect all relevant CFTR mutation types. Sequence data analysis utilizes publicly available software supplemented by an expert-curated compendium of >2000 CFTR variants. Validation studies across 190 dried blood spots demonstrated 100% sensitivity and a positive predictive value of 100% for single-nucleotide variants and insertions and deletions and complete concordance across the polymorphic poly-TG and consecutive poly-T tracts. Additionally, we accurately detected both a known exon 2,3 deletion and a previously undetected exon 22,23 deletion. CFseq is thus able to replace all existing CFTR molecular assays with a single robust, definitive assay at significant cost and time savings and could be adapted to high-throughput screening of other inherited conditions.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Molecular biology, Positive predictive value, Cystic fibrosis, Assay, Newborn screening


Nearly 80% of cancer patients do not have genetic mutation results available at initial oncology consultation; up to 25% of patients begin treatment before receiving their results. These factors hinder the ability to pursue optimal treatment strategies. This study validates a blood-based genome-testing service that provides accurate results within 72 hours. We focused on targetable variants in advanced non-small cell lung carcinoma-epidermal growth factor receptor gene (EGFR) variant L858R, exon 19 deletion (ΔE746-A750), and T790M; GTPase Kirsten ras gene (KRAS) variants G12C/D/V; and echinoderm microtubule associated protein like and 4 anaplastic lymphoma receptor tyrosine kinase fusion (EML4-ALK) transcripts ½/3. Test development included method and clinical validation using samples from donors with (n = 219) or without (n = 30) cancer. Clinical sensitivity and specificity for each variant ranged from 78.6% to 100% and 94.2% to 100%, respectively. We also report on 1643 non-small cell lung carcinoma samples processed in our CLIA-certified laboratory. Mutation results were available within 72 hours for 94% of the tests evaluated. We detected 10.5% mutations for EGFR sensitizing (n = 2801 samples tested), 13.8% mutations for EGFR resistance (n = 1055), 13.2% mutations in KRAS (n = 3477), and 2% mutations for EML4-ALK fusion (n = 304). This rapid, highly sensitive, and actionable blood-based assay service expands testing options and supports faster treatment decisions.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Signal transduction, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Type I and type II errors, Sensitivity and specificity


The detection of point mutations is required in the diagnosis of many human diseases. The conformal specificity of DNA ligases was elegantly used to distinguish single-nucleotide mismatches. However, to detect point mutations in RNA retroviruses, conventional ligase-mediated approaches require the reverse transcription of viral genomes before separate ligation and amplification steps. We developed one-step ligation on RNA amplification (LRA) for the direct detection of RNA point mutations. The process combines the ligase-mediated joining of two oligonucleotides and subsequent hot start amplification into a single-tube reaction. We report that modifications to the structure of the oligonucleotide ligation probes improve the rate of ligation and the specificity of mutation detection on RNA. We applied LRA to the detection of a common, clinically relevant HIV-1 reverse transcriptase drug-resistant point mutation, K103N, and compared it with allele-specific PCR and pyrosequencing. LRA achieved a limit of specific quantitation of 1:100 (1%), and a limit of specific detection for mutant K103N RNA transcripts among excess wild-type strands of 1:10,000 (0.01%). LRA also exhibited good detection threshold of 5 × 10(2) copies/μL K103N RNA transcripts. LRA is a novel point mutation detection method, with potential utilization in HIV drug resistance detection and early diagnostics of genetic disorders associated with other infectious diseases and cancer.

Concepts: HIV, DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Polymerase chain reaction, Molecular biology, Reverse transcriptase


This Correspondence relates to the desciption of an optimized strategy for the detection of circulating cancer-related microRNA as discussed by Kim et al (J Mol Diagn 2012, 14:71-80).

Concepts: Chess, American film actors, American television actors


The increasing threat of antibiotic-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae highlights the need for new diagnostic options. A high-throughput multiplex bead suspension array assay was developed for profiling 29 N. gonorrhoeae genomic mutations and 2 plasmid genes conferring resistance to 6 antimicrobial agents: penicillin, ciprofloxacin, cefixime, tetracycline, azithromycin, and spectinomycin. The three steps of this assay include amplification of 12 N. gonorrhoeae chromosomal and plasmid loci, multiplex allele-specific primer extension reaction, and multiplex bead suspension array detection. Antibiotic resistance genetic determinants were identified successfully in 239 cervicovaginal N. gonorrhoeae-positive noncultured swab samples. This molecular assay can be used for detection of gonococci in clinical specimens, molecular typing, mutation profiling, and predictive assessment of N. gonorrhoeae susceptibility to antibiotics without the need for culture.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Antibiotic resistance, Penicillin, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Gonorrhea


Current clinical laboratory practice guidelines for next-generation sequencing (NGS) do not provide definitive guidance on confirming NGS variants. Sanger confirmation of NGS results can be inefficient, redundant, and expensive. We evaluated the accuracy of NGS-detected single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) and insertion/deletion variants (indels) and the necessity of NGS variant confirmation using four NGS target-capture gene panels covering 117 genes, 568 Kbp, and 77 patient DNA samples. Unique NGS-detected variants (1080 SNVs and 124 indels) underwent Sanger confirmation and/or were compared to data from the 1000 Genomes Project (1000 G). Recurrent variants in unrelated samples resulted in 919 comparisons between NGS and Sanger, with 100% concordance. In a second comparison, 762 unique NGS results (736 SNVs, 26 indels) from seven 1000 G samples were found to have 97.1% concordance with 1000 G phase 1 data. Sanger sequencing and 1000 G phase 3 data confirmed the accuracy of the NGS results for all 1000 G phase 1 discrepancies. In all samples, the depth of coverage exceeded 100× in >99.7% of bases in the target regions. In conclusion, confirmatory analysis by Sanger sequencing of SNVs detected via capture-based NGS testing that meets appropriate quality thresholds is unnecessarily redundant. In contrast, Sanger sequencing for indels may be required for defining the correct genomic location, and Sanger may be used for quality-assurance purposes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Molecular biology, Genome, Genomics, Confirmation, 1000 Genomes Project


This commentary highlights the article by Murray et al that describes novel probe systems for real-time PCR that provide improvements relative to dual-labeled probes.

Concepts: Polymerase chain reaction, Molecular biology, Real-time polymerase chain reaction, Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, Laboratory techniques, Space probe