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Prenat Diagn. 2014 Aug;34(8):778-83. doi: 10.1002/pd.4366. Epub 2014 Apr 30.

Theoretical performance of non-invasive prenatal testing for chromosome imbalances using counting of cell-free DNA fragments in maternal plasma.

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Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT, USA.



The aim of this study was to calculate the theoretical performance of non-invasive prenatal testing based on counting methods.


The calculations were based on Gaussian distributions of the percent cell-free DNA from selected chromosome regions in affected and normal pregnancies. The means were derived from the relative genomic size of the chromosome region and the fetal fraction. The standard deviations were derived from the bivariate distributions of proportional counts. Depth of sequencing was varied from 50,000,000 to 100,000 and fetal fraction from 20% to 3%. Detection rate was estimated for a fixed 0.13% false-positive rate.


When either depth or fetal fraction is high, expected Down syndrome screening detection rates are high. However, when fetal fraction is low, deeper sequencing is required to obtain high detection rates. For microdeletion and microduplication screening, deeper sequencing is routinely required to consistently achieve high detection rates. There are small differences in the ability to detect a microdeletion compared with a duplication of the same size.


While the theoretical calculations do not necessarily reflect the performance of currently available non-invasive prenatal testing tests, it confirms that fetal fraction is a key factor. Efficacy can be substantially altered depending on the abnormality under investigation and the depth of sequencing.

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