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BMC Mol Biol. 2017 Aug 23;18(1):22. doi: 10.1186/s12867-017-0099-7.

An optimised protocol for isolation of RNA from small sections of laser-capture microdissected FFPE tissue amenable for next-generation sequencing.

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Institute of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 260, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.
Functional Genomics Center Zurich, University of Zürich/ETH Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.
Institute of Veterinary Pathology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 268, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.
Institute of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 260, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.



Formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue constitutes a vast treasury of samples for biomedical research. Thus far however, extraction of RNA from FFPE tissue has proved challenging due to chemical RNA-protein crosslinking and RNA fragmentation, both of which heavily impact on RNA quantity and quality for downstream analysis. With very small sample sizes, e.g. when performing Laser-capture microdissection (LCM) to isolate specific subpopulations of cells, recovery of sufficient RNA for analysis with reverse-transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) or next-generation sequencing (NGS) becomes very cumbersome and difficult.


We excised matched cancer-associated stroma (CAS) and normal stroma from clinical specimen of FFPE canine mammary tumours using LCM, and compared the commonly used protease-based RNA isolation procedure with an adapted novel technique that additionally incorporates a focused ultrasonication step.


We successfully adapted a protocol that uses focused ultrasonication to isolate RNA from small amounts of deparaffinised, stained, clinical LCM samples. Using this approach, we found that total RNA yields could be increased by 8- to 12-fold compared to a commonly used protease-based extraction technique. Surprisingly, RNA extracted using this new approach was qualitatively at least equal if not superior compared to the old approach, as Cq values in RT-qPCR were on average 2.3-fold lower using the new method. Finally, we demonstrate that RNA extracted using the new method performs comparably in NGS as well.


We present a successful isolation protocol for extraction of RNA from difficult and limiting FFPE tissue samples that enables successful analysis of small sections of clinically relevant specimen. The possibility to study gene expression signatures in specific small sections of archival FFPE tissue, which often entail large amounts of highly relevant clinical follow-up data, unlocks a new dimension of hitherto difficult-to-analyse samples which now become amenable for investigation.


Cancer; Dog; FFPE; LCM; Mammary carcinoma; Mammary tumour; RNA isolation; RNAsequencing; RT-qPCR

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