Digital PCR analysis of maternal plasma for noninvasive detection of sickle cell anemia

Angela N Barrett, Thomas C R McDonnell, K C Allen Chan, Lyn S Chitty
Clinical Chemistry 2012, 58 (6): 1026-32

BACKGROUND: Cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) constitutes approximately 10% of the cell-free DNA in maternal plasma and is a suitable source of fetal genetic material for noninvasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD). The objective of this study was to determine the feasibility of using digital PCR for NIPD in pregnancies at risk of sickle cell anemia.

METHODS: Minor-groove binder (MGB) TaqMan probes were designed to discriminate between wild-type hemoglobin A and mutant (hemoglobin S) alleles encoded by the HBB (hemoglobin, beta) gene in cffDNA isolated from maternal plasma samples obtained from pregnancies at risk of sickle cell anemia. The fractional fetal DNA concentration was assessed in male-bearing pregnancies with a digital PCR assay for the Y chromosome-specific marker DYS14. In pregnancies with a female fetus, a panel of biallelic insertion/deletion polymorphism (indel) markers was developed for the quantification of the fetal DNA fraction. We used digital real-time PCR to analyze the dosage of the variant encoding hemoglobin S relative to that encoding wild-type hemoglobin A.

RESULTS: The sickle cell genotype was correctly determined in 82% (37 of 45) of male fetuses and 75% (15 of 20) of female fetuses. Mutation status was determined correctly in 100% of the cases (25 samples) with fractional fetal DNA concentrations >7%. The panel of indels was informative in 65% of the female-bearing pregnancies.

CONCLUSIONS: Digital PCR can be used to determine the genotype of fetuses at risk for sickle cell anemia. Optimization of the fractional fetal DNA concentration is essential. More-informative indel markers are needed for this assay's comprehensive use in cases of a female fetus.

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