Quantification of All Fetal Nucleated Cells in Maternal Blood Between the 18th and 22nd Weeks of Pregnancy Using Molecular Cytogenetic Techniques

Clin Genet. 2001 Aug;60(2):145-50. doi: 10.1034/j.1399-0004.2001.600209.x.


Different types of nucleated fetal cells (trophoblasts, erythroblasts, lymphocytes, and granulocytes) have been recovered in maternal peripheral blood. In spite of many attempts to estimate the number of fetal cells in maternal circulation, there is still much controversy concerning this aspect. The numbers obtained vary widely, ranging from 1 nucleated cell per 104 to 1 per 109 nucleated maternal cells. The purpose of our project was to determine the absolute number of all different types of male fetal nucleated cells per unit volume of peripheral maternal blood. Peripheral blood samples were obtained from 12 normal pregnant women known to carry a male fetus between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. Three milliliters (3 ml) of maternal blood has been processed without any enrichment procedures. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and primed in situ labeling (PRINS) were performed, and fetal XY cells were identified (among maternal XX cells) and scored by fluorescent microscopy screening. The total number of male fetal nucleated cells per milliliter of maternal blood was consistent in each woman studied and varied from 2 to 6 cells per milliliter within the group of normal pregnancies. The number of fetal cells in maternal blood, at a given period, is reproducible and can therefore be assessed by cytogenetic methods. This confirms the possibility of developing a non-invasive prenatal diagnosis test for aneuploidies. Furthermore, we demonstrate that it is possible to repeatedly identify an extremely small number of fetal cells among millions of maternal cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cytogenetic Analysis*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / cytology*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • X Chromosome / genetics
  • Y Chromosome / genetics