Principle and applications of digital PCR

Expert Rev Mol Diagn. 2004 Jan;4(1):41-7. doi: 10.1586/14737159.4.1.41.


Digital PCR represents an example of the power of PCR and provides unprecedented opportunities for molecular genetic analysis in cancer. The technique is to amplify a single DNA template from minimally diluted samples, therefore generating amplicons that are exclusively derived from one template and can be detected with different fluorophores or sequencing to discriminate different alleles (e.g., wild type vs. mutant or paternal vs. maternal alleles). Thus, digital PCR transforms the exponential, analog signals obtained from conventional PCR to linear, digital signals, allowing statistical analysis of the PCR product. Digital PCR has been applied in quantification of mutant alleles and detection of allelic imbalance in clinical specimens, providing a promising molecular diagnostic tool for cancer detection. The scope of this article is to review the principles of digital PCR and its practical applications in cancer research and in the molecular diagnosis of cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allelic Imbalance / genetics
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / instrumentation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*


  • DNA, Neoplasm