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J Mol Diagn. 1999 Nov;1(1):23-31.

A comparison of MyoD1 and fetal acetylcholine receptor expression in childhood tumors and normal tissues: implications for the molecular diagnosis of minimal disease in rhabdomyosarcomas.

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Institute of Pathology, University of Würzburg, Germany.


Detection of minimal residual disease or micrometastases in rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) has been an unresolved problem in 70 to 80% of RMS patients. In patients with alveolar type RMS, which harbors chromosomal translocations and produces tumor-specific fusion products, polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based diagnosis is clear-cut. In the more frequent embryonal RMS, however, no such PCR-based marker has been described. Recently it has been suggested that the PCR-based detection of MyoD1 may be a valuable adjunct in the diagnosis of minimal disease in embryonal RMS. We report here that MyoD1 mRNA is not specific for RMS, but can be amplified from ex vivo samples of many other childhood tumors and some normal tissues. By contrast, simultaneous amplification of alpha and gamma subunit message of the fetal type acetylcholine receptor (AChR), by a novel duplex PCR, and the quantification of both transcripts resulting in a alpha/gammaAChR ratio <1 was 100% sensitive in alveolar (n = 8) and embryonal (n = 10) RMS. Moreover, gammaAChR was not detected in other childhood (n = 27) or adult tumors (n = 12), or normal tissues, except thymus. The high sensitivity and specificity of the method were confirmed by the successful detection of five cases of cytologically or molecularly verified RMS bone marrow micrometastases among 47 bone marrow samples from childhood tumor patients. By contrast, MyoD1 showed no amplification because of its low level of transcription. We conclude that mRNA of the fetal type AChR is a more specific and (about 100 times) more sensitive marker for the molecular detection of RMS than MyoD1, and thus appears to be a promising candidate for the detection of minimal disease in RMS lacking tumor-specific translocations.

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