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J Mol Diagn. 2011 Mar;13(2):220-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2010.10.008.

Multiplex amplification coupled with COLD-PCR and high resolution melting enables identification of low-abundance mutations in cancer samples with low DNA content.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Thorough screening of cancer-specific biomarkers, such as DNA mutations, can require large amounts of genomic material; however, the amount of genomic material obtained from some specimens (such as biopsies, fine-needle aspirations, circulating-DNA or tumor cells, and histological slides) may limit the analyses that can be performed. Furthermore, mutant alleles may be at low-abundance relative to wild-type DNA, reducing detection ability. We present a multiplex-PCR approach tailored to amplify targets of interest from small amounts of precious specimens, for extensive downstream detection of low-abundance alleles. Using 3 ng of DNA (1000 genome-equivalents), we amplified the 1 coding exons (2-11) of TP53 via multiplex-PCR. Following multiplex-PCR, we performed COLD-PCR (co-amplification of major and minor alleles at lower denaturation temperature) to enrich low-abundance variants and high resolution melting (HRM) to screen for aberrant melting profiles. Mutation-positive samples were sequenced. Evaluation of mutation-containing dilutions revealed improved sensitivities after COLD-PCR over conventional-PCR. COLD-PCR improved HRM sensitivity by approximately threefold to sixfold. Similarly, COLD-PCR improved mutation identification in sequence-chromatograms over conventional PCR. In clinical specimens, eight mutations were detected via conventional-PCR-HRM, whereas 12 were detected by COLD-PCR-HRM, yielding a 33% improvement in mutation detection. In summary, we demonstrate an efficient approach to increase screening capabilities from limited DNA material via multiplex-PCR and improve mutation detection sensitivity via COLD-PCR amplification.

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