Background: Molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) is crucial to identify novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets for individualized therapies. We developed a multiplexed PCR-coupled liquid bead array to detect the expression of multiple genes in CTCs.
Methods: mRNA isolated from immunomagnetically enriched CTCs was subjected to multiplex PCR for KRT19 (keratin 19; also known as CK19), ERBB2 [v-erb-b2 erythroblastic leukemia viral oncogene homolog 2, neuro/glioblastoma derived oncogene homolog (avian); also known as HER2], SCGB2A2 (secretoglobin, family 2A, member 2; also known as MGB1, mammaglobin A), MAGEA3 (melanoma antigen family A, 3), TWIST-1 [twist homolog 1 (Drosophila)], and HMBS (hydroxymethylbilane synthase; also known as PBGD). Biotinylated amplicons were hybridized against fluorescent microspheres carrying gene-specific capture probes and incubated with streptavidin-phycoerythrin. We quantified the captured labeled amplicons and decoded the beads by Luminex flow cytometry. The assay was validated for limit of detection, specificity, and comparison with reverse-transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), and its clinical performance was evaluated in 64 patients with operable breast cancer, 20 patients with metastasis, and 17 healthy individuals.
Results: The assay was specific for each gene in complex multiplexed formats and could detect the expression of each gene at the level of a single SK-BR-3 cell. The assay produced results comparable to those for RT-qPCR for each gene. None of the genes tested was detected in the CTC fraction of healthy donors. We detected KRT19, ERBB2, MAGEA3, SCGB2A2, and TWIST1 in 26.6%, 12.5%, 18.7%, 10.9%, and 31.2% of operable breast cancer patients, respectively, and detected the corresponding genes in 65%, 20%, 30%, 20%, and 20% of patients with verified metastasis, respectively.
Conclusions: The expression of 6 genes in CTCs can be measured simultaneously and reliably, thereby saving precious sample and reducing the costs and time of analysis.