Detection of circulating melanoma cells in peripheral blood by a two-marker RT-PCR assay

Melanoma Res. 2001 Feb;11(1):65-73. doi: 10.1097/00008390-200102000-00008.


The aim of this study was to develop a highly sensitive two-marker assay for the detection of circulating melanoma cells in patients' blood using a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). We analysed the usefulness of two different sets of markers: tyrosinase and MUC-18 (TYR/MUC-18), and tyrosinase and MART 1 (TYR/MART 1). Total cellular RNA was isolated from 337 blood samples from 80 melanoma patients at different stages of the disease. All patients had undergone primary surgery. Assay sensitivity and specificity were confirmed using three different melanoma cell lines and two different fibroblast lines. In addition, blood from 47 healthy subjects and 10 patients with non-melanoma cancer was used as a negative control. We found that two-marker analysis is more accurate than the single tyrosinase assay. The frequency of melanoma cell detection in patients' blood was about 10% higher when the TYR/MART 1 two-marker assay was used. Using this assay we did not find any statistical correlation between the molecular markers and the UICC stage of disease or the Breslow thickness or Clark level of the primary melanoma. The frequency of melanoma cell detection with the TYR/MUC-18 two-marker assay was even higher than the TYR/MART 1 assay, but unfortunately the MUC-18 transcript was also present in about 20% of healthy subjects. Therefore we do not recommend the use of MUC-18 as a standard value marker.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA Primers / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • MART-1 Antigen
  • Male
  • Melanoma / diagnosis*
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / biosynthesis*
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Mucins / biosynthesis*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • DNA Primers
  • MART-1 Antigen
  • MLANA protein, human
  • MUC8 protein, human
  • Mucins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase