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Clin Chem. 2011 Mar;57(3):421-30. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2010.154328. Epub 2011 Jan 18.

Molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer by a liquid bead array hybridization assay.

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Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, University of Athens, and Medical Oncology Unit, Helena Venizelou Hospital, Athens, Greece.



Molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) is crucial to identify novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets for individualized therapies. We developed a multiplexed PCR-coupled liquid bead array to detect the expression of multiple genes in CTCs.


mRNA isolated from immunomagnetically enriched CTCs was subjected to multiplex PCR for KRT19 (keratin 19; also known as CK19), ERBB2 [v-erb-b2 erythroblastic leukemia viral oncogene homolog 2, neuro/glioblastoma derived oncogene homolog (avian); also known as HER2], SCGB2A2 (secretoglobin, family 2A, member 2; also known as MGB1, mammaglobin A), MAGEA3 (melanoma antigen family A, 3), TWIST-1 [twist homolog 1 (Drosophila)], and HMBS (hydroxymethylbilane synthase; also known as PBGD). Biotinylated amplicons were hybridized against fluorescent microspheres carrying gene-specific capture probes and incubated with streptavidin-phycoerythrin. We quantified the captured labeled amplicons and decoded the beads by Luminex flow cytometry. The assay was validated for limit of detection, specificity, and comparison with reverse-transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), and its clinical performance was evaluated in 64 patients with operable breast cancer, 20 patients with metastasis, and 17 healthy individuals.


The assay was specific for each gene in complex multiplexed formats and could detect the expression of each gene at the level of a single SK-BR-3 cell. The assay produced results comparable to those for RT-qPCR for each gene. None of the genes tested was detected in the CTC fraction of healthy donors. We detected KRT19, ERBB2, MAGEA3, SCGB2A2, and TWIST1 in 26.6%, 12.5%, 18.7%, 10.9%, and 31.2% of operable breast cancer patients, respectively, and detected the corresponding genes in 65%, 20%, 30%, 20%, and 20% of patients with verified metastasis, respectively.


The expression of 6 genes in CTCs can be measured simultaneously and reliably, thereby saving precious sample and reducing the costs and time of analysis.

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