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Genet Mol Biol ; 41(3): 545-554, 2018.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-30043834

Our aim was to develop and apply a comprehensive noninvasive prenatal test (NIPT) by using high-coverage targeted next-generation sequencing to estimate fetal fraction, determine fetal sex, and detect trisomy and monogenic disease without parental genotype information. We analyzed 45 pregnancies, 40 mock samples, and eight mother-child pairs to generate 35 simulated datasets. Fetal fraction (FF) was estimated based on analysis of the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) allele fraction distribution. A Z-score was calculated for trisomy of chromosome 21 (T21), and fetal sex detection. Monogenic disease detection was performed through variant analysis. Model validation was performed using the simulated datasets. The novel model to estimate FF was robust and accurate (r2= 0.994, p-value < 2.2e-16). For samples with FF > 0.04, T21 detection had 100% sensitivity (95% CI: 63.06 to 100%) and 98.53% specificity (95% CI: 92.08 to 99.96%). Fetal sex was determined with 100% accuracy. We later performed a proof of concept for monogenic disease diagnosis of 5/7 skeletal dysplasia cases. In conclusion, it is feasible to perform a comprehensive NIPT by using only data from high coverage targeted sequencing, which, in addition to detecting trisomies, also make it possible to identify pathogenic variants of the candidate genes for monogenic diseases.

Clin Case Rep ; 5(9): 1503-1509, 2017 09.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28878914

We report a novel KRT13 germ line variant that causes white sponge nevus (WSN) with mucosal dysplasia. Genital, vaginal, and cervical WSN were observed in four female patients, of whom two had premalignant cervical lesions at young age. Two of the 12 patients with oral WSN developed oral squamous cell carcinoma.

Hum Mutat ; 38(8): 912-921, 2017 08.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28471515

Next-generation sequencing is radically changing how DNA diagnostic laboratories operate. What started as a single-gene profession is now developing into gene panel sequencing and whole-exome and whole-genome sequencing (WES/WGS) analyses. With further advances in sequencing technology and concomitant price reductions, WGS will soon become the standard and be routinely offered. Here, we focus on the critical steps involved in performing WGS, with a particular emphasis on points where WGS differs from WES, the important variables that should be taken into account, and the quality control measures that can be taken to monitor the process. The points discussed here, combined with recent publications on guidelines for reporting variants, will facilitate the routine implementation of WGS into a diagnostic setting.

Genome, Human/genetics , Exome/genetics , High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing , Humans , Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2/genetics , Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide/genetics
Eur J Hum Genet ; 25(5): 515-519, 2017 05.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28272535

Tremendous progress in genetics and genomics led to a wide range of healthcare providers, genetic tests, and more patients who can benefit from these developments. To guarantee and improve the quality of genetic testing, a unified European-based registration for individuals qualified in biomedicine was realized. Therefore a Europe-wide recognition of the profession 'European registered Clinical Laboratory Geneticist (ErCLG)' based on a syllabus of core competences was established which allows for harmonization in professional education. The 'European Board of Medical Genetics division - Clinical Laboratory Geneticist' provides now since 3 years the possibility to register as an ErCLG. Applicants may be from all European countries and since this year also from outside of Europe. Five subtitles reflect the exact specialty of each ErCLG, who can reregister every 5 years. A previously not possible statistics based on ~300 individuals from 19 countries as holders of an ErCLG title provides interesting insights into the professionals working in human genetics. It could be substantiated that there are around twice as many females than males and that a PhD title was achieved by 80% of registered ErCLGs. Also most ErCLGs are still trained as generalists (66%), followed by such ErCLGs with focus on molecular genetics (23%); the remaining are concentrated either on clinical (6%), tumor (4%) or biochemical genetics (1%). In conclusion, besides MDs and genetic counselors/nurses an EU-wide recognition system for Clinical Laboratory Geneticist has been established, which strengthens the status of specialists working in human genetic diagnostics in Europe and worldwide.

Clinical Laboratory Services/standards , Credentialing/standards , Genetics, Medical/standards , Medical Laboratory Personnel/standards , Credentialing/legislation & jurisprudence , Credentialing/organization & administration , European Union , Humans , Workforce
Per Med ; 14(3): 235-247, 2017 05.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-29767583

Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) is being applied within research settings across Europe to develop genomic WGS-based diagnostic tests. The focus of this perspective paper is to describe if, and how, current approaches of health technology assessment could be applied to WGS-based diagnostic tests. This perspective draws on the collective view from a trans-European multidisciplinary consortium of methodologists, clinicians and scientists. Specific challenges can be described by using the PICO (population, intervention, comparator, outcome) framework to inform health technology assessment. Practical solutions are suggested which require joined-up, multidisciplinary working across healthcare systems using existing expert networks so that emergent issues for the health technology assessment of WGS can be met in a timely fashion.

Genomics/economics , Genomics/methods , Whole Genome Sequencing/methods , Cost-Benefit Analysis , Diagnostic Tests, Routine , Europe , Female , High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing/methods , Humans , Male , Sequence Analysis, DNA/methods , Technology Assessment, Biomedical , Whole Genome Sequencing/trends
Horm Res Paediatr ; 85(6): 412-20, 2016.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-26925581

BACKGROUND: Recessive mutations in the leptin receptor (LEPR) are a rare cause of hyperphagia and severe early-onset obesity. To date, the phenotype has only been described in 25 obese children, some of whom also had altered immune function, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, reduced growth hormone secretion, hypothalamic hypothyroidism or reduced adult height. We provide a detailed description of the phenotype of 2 affected girls to add to this knowledge. METHODS: Whole-exome sequencing and targeted sequencing were used to detect the LEPR mutations. RNA analysis was performed to assess the effect of splice-site mutations. RESULTS: In 2 unrelated girls with severe obesity, three novel LEPR mutations were detected. Longitudinal growth data show normal childhood growth, and in the older girl, a normal adult height despite hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and the lack of an obvious pubertal growth spurt. Bone age is remarkably advanced in the younger (prepubertal) girl, and bone mineral density (BMD) is high in both girls, which might be directly or indirectly related to leptin resistance. CONCLUSION: The spectrum of clinical features of LEPR deficiency may be expanded with increased BMD. Future observations in LEPR-deficient subjects should help further unravel the role of leptin in human bone biology.

Bone Density , Mutation , Obesity/genetics , Receptors, Leptin/genetics , Adolescent , Adult , Child , Female , Humans , Obesity/blood , Obesity/pathology , Receptors, Leptin/metabolism , Severity of Illness Index
Eur J Hum Genet ; 24(1): 2-5, 2016 Jan.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-26508566

We present, on behalf of EuroGentest and the European Society of Human Genetics, guidelines for the evaluation and validation of next-generation sequencing (NGS) applications for the diagnosis of genetic disorders. The work was performed by a group of laboratory geneticists and bioinformaticians, and discussed with clinical geneticists, industry and patients' representatives, and other stakeholders in the field of human genetics. The statements that were written during the elaboration of the guidelines are presented here. The background document and full guidelines are available as supplementary material. They include many examples to assist the laboratories in the implementation of NGS and accreditation of this service. The work and ideas presented by others in guidelines that have emerged elsewhere in the course of the past few years were also considered and are acknowledged in the full text. Interestingly, a few new insights that have not been cited before have emerged during the preparation of the guidelines. The most important new feature is the presentation of a 'rating system' for NGS-based diagnostic tests. The guidelines and statements have been applauded by the genetic diagnostic community, and thus seem to be valuable for the harmonization and quality assurance of NGS diagnostics in Europe.

Accreditation/legislation & jurisprudence , Genetic Diseases, Inborn/diagnosis , Genetic Testing/standards , High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing/standards , Proteins/genetics , Biomarkers/metabolism , Databases, Genetic , Europe , Gene Expression , Genetic Diseases, Inborn/genetics , Genetic Diseases, Inborn/pathology , High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing/instrumentation , High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing/statistics & numerical data , Humans , Incidental Findings , Information Dissemination/legislation & jurisprudence , Informed Consent , Research Design/standards , Sensitivity and Specificity
J Mol Diagn ; 17(5): 590-6, 2015 Sep.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-26162331

The challenge in noninvasive prenatal diagnosis for monogenic disorders lies in the detection of low levels of fetal variants in the excess of maternal cell-free plasma DNA. Next-generation sequencing, which is the main method used for noninvasive prenatal testing and diagnosis, can overcome this challenge. However, this method may not be accessible to all genetic laboratories. Moreover, shotgun next-generation sequencing as, for instance, currently applied for noninvasive fetal trisomy screening may not be suitable for the detection of inherited mutations. We have developed a sensitive, mutation-specific, and fast alternative for next-generation sequencing-mediated noninvasive prenatal diagnosis using a PCR-based method. For this proof-of-principle study, noninvasive fetal paternally inherited mutation detection was performed using cell-free DNA from maternal plasma. Preferential amplification of the paternally inherited allele was accomplished through a personalized approach using a blocking probe against maternal sequences in a high-resolution melting curve analysis-based assay. Enhanced detection of the fetal paternally inherited mutation was obtained for both an autosomal dominant and a recessive monogenic disorder by blocking the amplification of maternal sequences in maternal plasma.

DNA Mutational Analysis/methods , Fathers , Genetic Diseases, Inborn/diagnosis , Pregnancy/blood , Prenatal Diagnosis/methods , Blood Chemical Analysis/methods , DNA/analysis , DNA/blood , Female , Genetic Diseases, Inborn/genetics , Germ-Line Mutation , Humans , Inheritance Patterns , Male , Mothers , Mutation , Pedigree , Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
Prenat Diagn ; 35(10): 945-9, 2015 Oct.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-25767004

OBJECTIVE: With a shift towards noninvasive testing, we have explored and validated the use of noninvasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) for Huntington disease (HD). METHODS: Fifteen couples have been included, assessing a total of n = 20 pregnancies. Fetal paternally inherited CAG repeat length was determined in total cell-free DNA from maternal plasma using a direct approach by PCR and subsequent fragment analysis. RESULTS: All fetal HD (n = 7) and intermediate (n = 3) CAG repeats could be detected in maternal plasma. Detection of repeats in the normal range (n = 10) was successful in n = 5 cases where the paternal repeat size could be distinguished from maternal repeat patterns after fragment analysis. In all other cases (n = 5), the paternal peaks coincided with the maternal peak pattern. All NIPD results were concordant with results from routine diagnostics on fetal genomic DNA from chorionic villi. CONCLUSION: In this validation study, we demonstrated that all fetuses at risk for HD could be identified noninvasively in maternal plasma. Additionally, we have confirmed results from previously described case reports that NIPD for HD can be performed using a direct approach by PCR. For future diagnostics, parental CAG profiles can be used to predict the success rate for NIPD prior to testing.

Huntington Disease/diagnosis , Maternal Serum Screening Tests , Nerve Tissue Proteins/genetics , Female , Humans , Huntingtin Protein , Huntington Disease/blood , Huntington Disease/genetics , Male , Pregnancy
Hemoglobin ; 39(2): 107-10, 2015.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-25677748

The objective of this study was to expand and study the molecular spectrum of ß-thalassemia (ß-thal) mutations in Oman by examining cases from seven different regions and comparing the prevalence with neighboring countries. A total of 446 cases of ß hemoglobinopathies was obtained and analyzed to determine the frequency and distribution of the different ß alleles. The molecular spectrum of ß-thal in Oman revealed the presence of 32 mutations from different origins and 11 alleles are reported for the first time in the Omani population. The wide heterogeneous spectrum of ß-thal mutations found can be associated with the history of trade and migration as well as the past domination from other countries. The presented data will facilitate the development of a comprehensive prevention strategy in Oman.

Mutation , beta-Globins/genetics , beta-Thalassemia/epidemiology , beta-Thalassemia/genetics , Alleles , Exons , Gene Frequency , Genotype , Humans , Introns , Oman/epidemiology
Hemoglobin ; 38(6): 422-6, 2014.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-25370869

We describe the molecular characterization of α-globin gene defects in a cohort of 634 Omani patients. A total of 21 different α gene mutations were found in 484 subjects. Overall, we identified three different large deletions, three small deletions, 11 point mutations [two on the α2 polyadenylation signal (polyA) (HBA2: c.*94A>G), and nine α chain variants], three ααα(anti 3.7) triplication, a 21 nucleotide (nt) duplication on the α1 gene and two novel (presumed) polymorphisms on the α 3.7 kb hybrid gene, namely -5 (C>T) and +46 (C>A). Of these defects, 15 have not been previously reported in the Omani population. This large heterogeneity of α-thalassemia (α-thal) observed in the Omani population could be expected in neighboring Arab countries. The high frequency of α-thal, solely or in association with ß-globin gene defects, emphasize the necessity of adding α-thal testing to pre marital programs for accurate genetic counseling.

Hemoglobins, Abnormal/genetics , Mutation , alpha-Globins/genetics , alpha-Thalassemia/genetics , Case-Control Studies , Female , Humans , Male , Oman/epidemiology , alpha-Thalassemia/epidemiology , beta-Globins/genetics
Horm Res Paediatr ; 82(5): 310-8, 2014.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-25300501

BACKGROUND/AIMS: In addition to genome-wide association studies (GWAS), height-associated genes may be uncovered by studying individuals with extreme short or tall stature. METHODS: Genome-wide analysis for copy number variants (CNVs), using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) arrays, was performed in 49 index cases born small for gestational age with persistent short stature. Segregation analysis was performed, and genes in CNVs were compared with information from GWAS, gene expression in rodents' growth plates, and published information. RESULTS: CNVs were detected in 13 cases. In 5 children a known cause of short stature was found: UPD7, UPD14, a duplication of the SHOX enhancer region, an IGF1R deletion, and a 22q11.21 deletion. In the remaining 8 cases, potential pathogenic CNVs were detected, either de novo (n = 1), segregating (n = 2), or not segregating with short stature (n = 5). Bioinformatic analysis of the de novo and segregating CNVs suggested that HOXD4, AGPS, PDE11A, OSBPL6, PRKRA and PLEKHA3, and possibly DGKB and TNFRSF11B are potential candidate genes. A SERPINA7 or NRK defect may be associated with an X-linked form of short stature. CONCLUSION: SNP arrays detected 5 known causes of short stature with prenatal onset and suggested several potential candidate genes.

DNA Copy Number Variations , Infant, Small for Gestational Age , Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide , Animals , Female , Genome-Wide Association Study , Humans , Male , Mice
Neurology ; 83(12): 1056-9, 2014 Sep 16.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-25122204

OBJECTIVE: To determine the incidence and prevalence of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) in the Netherlands. METHODS: Using 3-source capture-recapture methodology, we estimated the total yearly number of newly found symptomatic individuals with FSHD, including those not registered in any of the 3 sources. To this end, symptomatic individuals with FSHD were available from 3 large population-based registries in the Netherlands if diagnosed within a 10-year period (January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2010). Multiplication of the incidence and disease duration delivered the prevalence estimate. RESULTS: On average, 52 people are newly diagnosed with FSHD every year. This results in an incidence rate of 0.3/100,000 person-years in the Netherlands. The prevalence rate was 12/100,000, equivalent to 2,000 affected individuals. CONCLUSIONS: We present population-based incidence and prevalence estimates regarding symptomatic individuals with FSHD, including an estimation of the number of symptomatic individuals not present in any of the 3 used registries. This study shows that the total number of symptomatic persons with FSHD in the population may well be underestimated and a considerable number of affected individuals remain undiagnosed. This suggests that FSHD is one of the most prevalent neuromuscular disorders.

Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral/epidemiology , Registries , Adult , Aged , Female , Humans , Incidence , Male , Middle Aged , Netherlands/epidemiology , Prevalence
Hemoglobin ; 38(4): 299-302, 2014.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-24985928

Although δ-thalassemia (δ-thal) is not categorized as a severe disease, it is essential to know the molecular spectrum of the δ gene mutations frequently occurring in specific areas, particularly if these areas are characterized by a high rate of ß-thalassemia (ß-thal) such as Oman. This is because coinherited δ-globin gene defects can interfere with the basic diagnosis of a ß-thal carrier when this is based upon the measurement of the Hb A2 only. Because of that, we have investigated 33 patients with low Hb A2 levels, collected from different hospitals in Oman. Some cases had a second Hb A2 fraction, while others had only significantly lower Hb A2 levels. Among these patients, 20 did carry a δ-globin gene mutation, the rest were carriers of α thalassemia (α-thal) defects or could be iron depleted or both. In total, eight different known mutations and two novel δ variants were found. The characterization of the δ-globin gene mutation spectrum will improve carrier diagnostics and genetic counseling in the Omani population screened for ß-thal.

Hemoglobin A2/metabolism , Mutation , delta-Globins/genetics , delta-Thalassemia/blood , delta-Thalassemia/genetics , Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid , Codon , DNA Mutational Analysis , Female , Genotype , Hemoglobin A2/chemistry , Humans , Male , Oman , delta-Thalassemia/diagnosis
Int J Environ Res Public Health ; 11(6): 6136-46, 2014 Jun 11.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-24921462

Healthy carriers of severe Hemoglobinopathies are usually asymptomatic and only efficiently detected through screening campaigns. Based upon epidemiological data, screenings have been offered for decades to populations of endemic Southern Europe for primary prevention of Thalassemia Major, while for many populations of the highly endemic African and Asian countries prevention for Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemia Major is mainly unavailable. The massive migrations of the last decades have brought many healthy carriers of these diseases to live and reproduce in non-endemic immigration areas changing the epidemiological pattern of the local recessive diseases and bringing an urgent need for treatment and primary prevention in welfare countries. Nonetheless, no screening for an informed reproductive choice is actively offered by the healthcare systems of most of these welfare countries. As a consequence more children affected with severe Hemoglobinopathies are born today in the immigration countries of Northern Europe than in the endemic Southern European area. Following the Mediterranean example, some countries like the UK and The Netherlands have been offering early pregnancy carrier screening at different levels and/or in specific areas but more accessible measures need to be taken at the national level in all immigration countries. Identification of carriers using simple and inexpensive methods should be included in the Rhesus and infectious diseases screening which is offered early in pregnancy in most developed countries. This would allow identification of couples at risk in time for an informed choice and for prenatal diagnosis if required before the first affected child is born.

Hemoglobinopathies/epidemiology , Hemoglobinopathies/genetics , Molecular Epidemiology , Preventive Health Services , Female , Genetic Testing , Hemoglobinopathies/diagnosis , Humans , Mass Screening , Pregnancy , Public Health
Am J Hum Genet ; 93(4): 744-51, 2013 Oct 03.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-24075187

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy type 1 (FSHD1) is caused by contraction of the D4Z4 repeat array on chromosome 4 to a size of 1-10 units. The residual number of D4Z4 units inversely correlates with clinical severity, but significant clinical variability exists. Each unit contains a copy of the DUX4 retrogene. Repeat contractions are associated with changes in D4Z4 chromatin structure that increase the likelihood of DUX4 expression in skeletal muscle, but only when the repeat resides in a genetic background that contains a DUX4 polyadenylation signal. Mutations in the structural maintenance of chromosomes flexible hinge domain containing 1 (SMCHD1) gene, encoding a chromatin modifier of D4Z4, also result in the increased likelihood of DUX4 expression in individuals with a rare form of FSHD (FSHD2). Because SMCHD1 directly binds to D4Z4 and suppresses somatic expression of DUX4, we hypothesized that SMCHD1 may act as a genetic modifier in FSHD1. We describe three unrelated individuals with FSHD1 presenting an unusual high clinical severity based on their upper-sized FSHD1 repeat array of nine units. Each of these individuals also carries a mutation in the SMCHD1 gene. Familial carriers of the FSHD1 allele without the SMCHD1 mutation were only mildly affected, suggesting a modifier effect of the SMCHD1 mutation. Knocking down SMCHD1 in FSHD1 myotubes increased DUX4 expression, lending molecular support to a modifier role for SMCHD1 in FSHD1. We conclude that FSHD1 and FSHD2 share a common pathophysiological pathway in which the FSHD2 gene can act as modifier for disease severity in families affected by FSHD1.

Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone/genetics , Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral/genetics , Adolescent , Adult , Aged , Alleles , Amino Acid Sequence , Base Sequence , Child , Female , Homeodomain Proteins/genetics , Humans , Male , Middle Aged , Molecular Sequence Data , Muscle Fibers, Skeletal/metabolism , Mutation , Pedigree , Young Adult
PeerJ ; 1: e35, 2013.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-23638371

Context. Leri-Weill dyschondrosteosis is a clinically variable skeletal dysplasia, caused by SHOX deletion or mutations, or a deletion of enhancer sequences in the 3'-flanking region. Recently, a 47.5 kb recurrent PAR1 deletion downstream of SHOX was reported, but its frequency and clinical importance are still unknown. Objective. This study aims to compare the clinical features of different sizes of deletions in the 3'-flanking SHOX region in order to determine the relevance of the regulatory sequences in this region. Design. We collected DNA from 28 families with deletions in the 3'-PAR1 region. Clinical data were available from 23 index patients and 21 relatives. Results. In 9 families (20 individuals) a large deletion ( âˆ¼ 200-900 kb) was found and in 19 families (35 individuals) a small deletion was demonstrated, equal to the recently described 47.5 kb PAR1 deletion. Median height SDS, sitting height/height ratio SDS and the presence of Madelung deformity in patients with the 47.5 kb deletion were not significantly different from patients with larger deletions. The index patients had a median height SDS which was slightly lower than in their affected family members (p = 0.08). No significant differences were observed between male and female patients. Conclusions. The phenotype of patients with deletions in the 3'-PAR1 region is remarkably variable. Height, sitting height/height ratio and the presence of Madelung deformity were not significantly different between patients with the 47.5 kb recurrent PAR1 deletion and those with larger deletions, suggesting that this enhancer plays an important role in SHOX expression.

Clin Chem ; 59(4): 705-9, 2013 Apr.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-23315481

BACKGROUND: Noninvasive trisomy 21 detection performed by use of massively parallel sequencing is achievable with high diagnostic sensitivity and low false-positive rates. Detection of fetal trisomy 18 and 13 has been reported as well but seems to be less accurate with the use of this approach. The reduced accuracy can be explained by PCR-introduced guanine-cytosine (GC) bias influencing sequencing data. Previously, we demonstrated that sequence data generated by single molecule sequencing show virtually no GC bias and result in a more pronounced noninvasive detection of fetal trisomy 21. In this study, single molecule sequencing was used for noninvasive detection of trisomy 18 and 13. METHODS: Single molecule sequencing was performed on the Helicos platform with free DNA isolated from maternal plasma from 11 weeks of gestation onward (n = 17). Relative sequence tag density ratios were calculated against male control plasma samples and results were compared to those of previous karyotyping. RESULTS: All trisomy 18 fetuses were identified correctly with a diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of 100%. However, low diagnostic sensitivity and specificity were observed for fetal trisomy 13 detection. CONCLUSIONS: We successfully applied single molecule sequencing in combination with relative sequence tag density calculations for noninvasive trisomy 18 detection using free DNA from maternal plasma. However, noninvasive trisomy 13 detection was not accurate and seemed to be influenced by more than just GC content.

Chromosomes, Human, Pair 18 , Trisomy/diagnosis , Humans , Sensitivity and Specificity
PLoS One ; 8(12): e84051, 2013.
Article En | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-24391879

OBJECTIVES: RASSF1A has been described to be differentially methylated between fetal and maternal DNA and can therefore be used as a universal sex-independent marker to confirm the presence of fetal sequences in maternal plasma. However, this requires highly sensitive methods. We have previously shown that Pyrophosphorolysis-activated Polymerization (PAP) is a highly sensitive technique that can be used in noninvasive prenatal diagnosis. In this study, we have used PAP in combination with bisulfite conversion to develop a new universal methylation-based assay for the detection of fetal methylated RASSF1A sequences in maternal plasma. METHODS: Bisulfite sequencing was performed on maternal genomic (g)DNA and fetal gDNA from chorionic villi to determine differentially methylated regions in the RASSF1A gene using bisulfite specific PCR primers. Methylation specific primers for PAP were designed for the detection of fetal methylated RASSF1A sequences after bisulfite conversion and validated. RESULTS: Serial dilutions of fetal gDNA in a background of maternal gDNA show a relative percentage of ~3% can be detected using this assay. Furthermore, fetal methylated RASSF1A sequences were detected both retrospectively as well as prospectively in all maternal plasma samples tested (n = 71). No methylated RASSF1A specific bands were observed in corresponding maternal gDNA. Specificity was further determined by testing anonymized plasma from non-pregnant females (n = 24) and males (n = 21). Also, no methylated RASSF1A sequences were detected here, showing this assay is very specific for methylated fetal DNA. Combining all samples and controls, we obtain an overall sensitivity and specificity of 100% (95% CI 98.4%-100%). CONCLUSIONS: Our data demonstrate that using a combination of bisulfite conversion and PAP fetal methylated RASSF1A sequences can be detected with extreme sensitivity in a universal and sex-independent manner. Therefore, this assay could be of great value as an addition to current techniques used in noninvasive prenatal diagnostics.

DNA Methylation , DNA/analysis , Fetus/metabolism , Genetic Markers/genetics , Placenta/metabolism , Prenatal Diagnosis/methods , Tumor Suppressor Proteins/genetics , Base Sequence , Cell-Free System , DNA/isolation & purification , Female , Genotype , Gestational Age , Humans , Male , Molecular Sequence Data , Polymerase Chain Reaction , Pregnancy , Prospective Studies , Retrospective Studies , Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid