Background: Plasma DNA is predominantly hematopoietic in origin. The size difference between maternal- and fetal-derived DNA in maternal plasma prompted us to investigate whether there was any discrepancy in molecular size between hematopoietically and nonhematopoietically derived DNA in plasma.
Methods: Plasma DNA samples from 6 hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients and 1 liver transplant recipient were analyzed by massively parallel paired-end sequencing. The size of each fragment was deduced from the alignment positions of the paired reads. In sex-mismatched transplant recipients, the reads from chromosome Y were used as markers for the male donor/recipient. For other transplant recipients, the reads of the donor- and recipient-specific alleles were identified from the single-nucleotide polymorphism genotypes.
Results: In male patients receiving female hematopoietic stem cells, more chromosome Y-derived DNA molecules (nonhematopoietically derived) were ≤150 bp than the autosome-derived ones (mainly hematopoietically derived) (median difference, 9.9%). In other hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients, more recipient-specific DNA molecules (nonhematopoietically derived) were ≤150 bp than the donor-specific ones (hematopoietically derived) (median difference, 14.8%). In the liver transplant recipient, more donor-derived DNA molecules (liver derived) were ≤150 bp than the recipient-derived ones (mainly hematopoietically derived) (difference, 13.4%). The nonhematopoietically derived DNA exhibited a reduction in a 166-bp peak compared with the hematopoietically derived DNA. A 10-bp periodicity in size distribution below approximately 143 bp was observed in both DNA populations.
Conclusions: Massively parallel sequencing is a powerful tool for studying posttransplantation chimerism. Plasma DNA molecules exhibit a distinct fragmentation pattern, with the nonhematopoietically derived molecules being shorter than the hematopoietically derived ones.