Polymerase chain reaction in the detection of circulating tumour cells in peripheral blood of melanoma patients

Recent Results Cancer Res. 2001;158:93-104. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-59537-0_9.


Conflicting results were obtained by various research groups using the tyrosinase reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for detecting melanoma cells circulating in peripheral blood. Whereas 100% positivity was initially reported for stage IV patients, more recent investigations reported positive detection rates between 30% and 50% in patients with disseminated melanoma. While the high detection rate initially reported in metastatic melanoma may be explained by contamination problems, methodological differences in different steps of the technical procedure of RT-PCR may account for the differences reported in more recent examinations. Major differences may result from the kind of blood preparation, the RNA isolation method, the kind of RT enzyme used, and the gene targeted by PCR primers. In our experience, blood purification by a Ficoll gradient increased melanoma cell detection rates compared to RNA extraction from total blood or after erythrocyte lysis. Amplification of MelanA in addition to tyrosinase resulted in a 30% enhanced sensitivity of melanoma cell detection compared to amplification to tyrosinase alone, whereas gp100/pMel17 and MUC18 gene products were already detected in blood from nonmelanoma patients. These findings are in agreement with those of other groups. Currently, an increase in the sensitivity for detection of circulating tumour cells to more than 50% of patients with disseminated melanoma seems to be unlikely. It is interesting that between 15% and 30% positive results and sometimes more have already been obtained from patients with primary melanoma. So far, there is no data for judging the prognostic significance of the detection of circulating tumour cells in patients without clinically recognisable metastases. Our limited experience shows that staging examinations in these patients reveal no proof of macrometastasis. Therefore, it is presently unclear whether these positive findings are associated with long-term prognosis or if they merely reflect false positive findings in this highly sensitive RT-PCR technique.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Cell Separation
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / blood*
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / analysis
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skin Neoplasms / blood*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase