Detection of melanoma cells in peripheral blood and sentinel lymph nodes by RT-PCR analysis: a comparative study with immunohistochemistry

Tumori. Jul-Aug 2000;86(4):336-8.


The presence of lymph node metastases is the best prognostic factor for predicting relapse or survival in melanoma patients. It has been demonstrated that melanoma metastases spread through the first lymph node(s) draining the tumor (sentinel lymph node, SN) to the lymphatic system and that detection of melanoma cells in peripheral blood directly correlates with prognosis in melanoma. To identify lymph node metastases and circulating melanocytes, we developed a single-step reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assay (RT-PCR) for detection of two melanoma-specific markers: the tyrosinase gene, which encodes an enzyme associated with melanin synthesis, and melanoma antigen-related T-cells, which are present in tumor infiltrating T-lymphocytes. This method detects two tumor cells in a background of 10(7) lymphocytes. Thirty patients with stage I-IV cutaneous melanoma entered the study. Blood samples were taken preoperatively, one month after excision of the primary melanoma lesion and the SN or total lymphadenectomy, and before the start of chemotherapy and every three months thereafter in metastatic patients. SNs were collected from 22 patients, bisected and analyzed by RT-PCR and routine pathological and immunohistochemical tests. The preliminary results indicate that RT-PCR for melanoma markers is a sensitive and valuable method for the detection of micrometastases and for early diagnosis and staging of melanoma.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging
  • Lymph Nodes / enzymology
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Male
  • Melanoma / blood
  • Melanoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Melanoma / enzymology
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / immunology
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / genetics*
  • RNA, Neoplasm / analysis*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy* / methods
  • Skin Neoplasms / blood
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Skin Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology*
  • Technetium Tc 99m Aggregated Albumin


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Tc 99m Aggregated Albumin
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase