Background: Prenatal diagnosis for chromosome abnormality is routinely undertaken by full karyotype analysis of chromosomes from cultured cells; pregnant women must wait on average 13-14 days for their results. Autosomal trisomies, which account for around 80% of significant abnormalities, can be detected by quantitative fluorescence (QF) PCR. We report on the development and implementation of this technique as the first such routine service within a diagnostic department of the UK National Health Service (NHS).
Methods: We designed a "one-tube test" comprising four primer pairs for polymorphic tetranucleotide repeat sequences on chromosome 21, four primer pairs for sequences on chromosome 18, three primer pairs for sequences on chromosome 13, and one primer pair to identify the sex chromosomes. All prenatal samples received by our NHS diagnostic department between April, 2000, and April, 2001, were tested. After DNA extraction, PCR amplification was done and the products separated on a capillary-based genetic analyser; the results were interpreted with dedicated software. Follow-up karyotype analysis was done on all samples.
Findings: 1148 amniotic fluid samples, 188 chorionic villus samples, and 37 fetal tissue samples were tested; the amplification failure rate was zero with our current protocol. QF-PCR results were obtained and reported on 1314 (98%) of the prenatal samples; the remaining 22 (2%) were uninformative because of maternal-cell contamination. One case of mosaicism in a chorionic villus sample, and two cases indicating somatic expansion of a tetranucleotide repeat were found. No false positive or false negative results were obtained. The mean reporting time for the last 4 months of data collection was 1.25 working days.
Interpretation: QF-PCR aneuploidy testing is an efficient and accurate technique for the detection of autosomal trisomies in prenatal samples. Implementation of this service has led to the rapid diagnosis of abnormalities and early reassurance for women with normal results.