Use of a DNA method, QF-PCR, in the prenatal diagnosis of fetal aneuploidies

J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2011 Sep;33(9):955-960. doi: 10.1016/S1701-2163(16)35022-8.


Objective: To provide Canadian health care providers with current information on the use of quantitative fluorescent polymerase chain reaction (QF-PCR) or equivalent technology in the prenatal diagnosis of fetal chromosomal abnormalities.

Options: Over the last few decades, prenatal diagnosis of fetal chromosomal abnormalities has relied on conventional cytogenetic analysis of cultured amniocytes, chorionic villi, or fetal blood. In the last few years, the clinical validity of a newer technique, QF-PCR, to detect the common aneuploidies has been reported by a number of investigators. This technique has the advantage of providing rapid results for the diagnosis or exclusion of aneuploidy in chromosomes 13, 18, 21, X or Y. It is now possible to choose standard chromosome analysis or QF-PCR for the prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities, or to perform both tests, depending on the clinical indication for testing. This document reviews the clinical utility of QF-PCR and makes recommendations for its use in the care of Canadian patients.

Evidence: Medline and PubMed were searched for articles published in English between January 2000 and December 2010 that presented data on the use of QF-PCR versus standard cytogenetic analysis of prenatal samples. A second search was done to identify publications in English that provided results of cytogenetic analysis performed on prenatal samples for women at an increased risk of fetal aneuploidy because of maternal age, abnormal prenatal screening results, or fetal soft ultrasound markers suggestive of an increased risk of aneuploidy. Publications were included if they provided detailed information on the abnormalities detected, regardless of whether or not rapid aneuploidy screening was undertaken. Results were restricted to systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, and relevant observational studies. Grey (unpublished) literature was identified through searching the websites of health technology assessment and health technology assessment-related agencies, clinical practice guideline collections, clinical trial registries, and national and international medical specialty societies.

Values: The quality of evidence was rated using the criteria described in the Report of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (Table 1).

Benefits, harms, and costs: This guideline promotes the use of a rapid aneuploidy DNA test for women at increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a common aneuploidy. This will have the benefit of providing rapid and accurate results to women at increased risk of fetal Down syndrome, trisomy 13, trisomy 18, sex chromosome aneuploidy or triploidy. It will also promote better use of laboratory resources and reduce the cost of prenatal diagnosis. However, a small percentage of pregnancies with a potentially clinically significant chromosomal abnormality will remain undetected by QF-PCR but detectable by conventional cytogenetics. Recommendations 1. QF-PCR is a reliable method to detect trisomies and should replace conventional cytogenetic analysis whenever prenatal testing is performed solely because of an increased risk of aneuploidy in chromosomes 13, 18, 21, X or Y. As with all tests, pretest counselling should include a discussion of the benefits and limitations of the test. In the initial period of use, education for health care providers will be required. (II-2A) 2. Both conventional cytogenetics and QF-PCR should be performed in all cases of prenatal diagnosis referred for a fetal ultrasound abnormality (including an increased nuchal translucency measurement > 3.5 mm) or a familial chromosomal rearrangement. (II-2A) 3. Cytogenetic follow-up of QF-PCR findings of trisomy 13 and 21 is recommended to rule out inherited Robertsonian translocations. However, the decision to set up a back-up culture for all cases that would allow for traditional cytogenetic testing if indicated by additional clinical or laboratory information should be made by each centre offering the testing according to the local clinical and laboratory experience and resources. (III-A) 4. Other technologies for the rapid detection of aneuploidy may replace QF-PCR if they offer a similar or improved performance for the detection of trisomy 13, 18, 21, and sex chromosome aneuploidy. (III-A).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aneuploidy*
  • Canada
  • Chromosome Disorders / diagnosis
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 13
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 18
  • DNA / analysis
  • Down Syndrome / diagnosis
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Chromosome Disorders / diagnosis
  • Trisomy / diagnosis
  • Trisomy 13 Syndrome


  • DNA