Background: The Multiplex Ligation-dependent Probe Amplification (MLPA) is widely used for analysis of copy number variations (CNVs) in single or multiple loci. MLPA is a versatile methodology and important tool in cancer research; it provides precise information on increased or decreased copy number at specific loci as opposed to loss of heterozygosity (LOH) studies based upon microsatellite analysis. Pre-designed MLPA kits and software are commercially available to analyze multiple exons, genes, and genomic regions. However, an increasing demand for new gene specific assays makes it necessary to self-design new MLPA probes for which the available software may not be applicable. During evaluation of new self-designed reference probes, we encountered a number of problems, especially when applying the MLPA methodology to tumor samples.
Findings: DNA samples from 48 unaffected individuals and 145 breast cancer patients were used to evaluate 11 self-designed MLPA probes and determine the cut-off values for CNV, before applying the MLPA probes to normalize the target probes in a cohort of affected individuals. To test the calculation strategy, three probes were designed to cover regions in Regulator of G-protein Signaling 8 (RGS8), which we previously have identified as being affected by allelic imbalance by LOH analysis across RGS8 in the cohort comprising 145 breast tumors. Agreement between the LOH results and the results obtained by each of the three MLPA probes in RGS8 was found for 64%, 73%, and 91%, of the analyzed samples, respectively.
Conclusion: Here, we present a straightforward method, based upon the normalization pattern in both unaffected and affected individuals, to evaluate self-designed reference probes and to calculate CNV for the MLPA assay with specific focus on the difficulties when analyzing tumor DNA.