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Clin Chim Acta. 2002 Sep;323(1-2):1-16.

Advances in prenatal screening for Down syndrome: I. general principles and second trimester testing.

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  • 1Division of Human Genetics, Department of Pediatrics, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, CT 06030-6140, USA.



Down syndrome is one of the most important causes of mental retardation in the population. In the absence of prenatal screening and diagnosis, prevalence at birth in the United States would currently exceed 1:600. The purpose of prenatal screening is to identify those women at the increased risk for an affected pregnancy and to maximize the options available to these women.


Second trimester serum screening involves combining the maternal age-specific risk for an affected pregnancy with the risks associated with the concentrations of maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP), unconjugated estriol (uE3), and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) (triple testing). A forth analyte, inhibin-A (INH-A), is increasingly being utilized (quadruple testing). Optimal second trimester screening requires the integration of a number of clinical variables, the most important of which is an accurate assessment of gestational age. In addition to Down syndrome, the triple and quadruple tests preferentially identify fetal trisomy 18, Turner syndrome, triploidy, trisomy 16 mosaicism, fetal death, Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, and steroid sulfatase deficiency. Some programs modify the Down syndrome risks generated through maternal serum screening tests with fetal biometric data obtained by ultrasound. Other second trimester tests have shown promise, including the analysis of maternal urine and fetal cells in the maternal circulation, but none are in routine clinical use.


The second trimester triple and quadruple tests provide benchmarks for evaluating new screening protocols. The combination of fetal biometry, new test development as well as clarification of the role of co-factors that affect the concentrations of analytes in existing tests should lead to greater efficacy in second trimester screening for Down syndrome.

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