Background: Multiplex digital PCR (dPCR) enables noninvasive and sensitive detection of circulating tumor DNA with performance unachievable by current molecular-detection approaches. Furthermore, picodroplet dPCR facilitates simultaneous screening for multiple mutations from the same sample.
Methods: We investigated the utility of multiplex dPCR to screen for the 7 most common mutations in codons 12 and 13 of the KRAS (Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog) oncogene from plasma samples of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Fifty plasma samples were tested from patients for whom the primary tumor biopsy tissue DNA had been characterized by quantitative PCR.
Results: Tumor characterization revealed that 19 patient tumors had KRAS mutations. Multiplex dPCR analysis of the plasma DNA prepared from these samples identified 14 samples that matched the mutation identified in the tumor, 1 sample contained a different KRAS mutation, and 4 samples had no detectable mutation. Among the tumor samples that were wild type for KRAS, 2 KRAS mutations were identified in the corresponding plasma samples. Duplex dPCR (i.e., wild-type and single-mutation assay) was also used to analyze plasma samples from patients with KRAS-mutated tumors and 5 samples expected to contain the BRAF (v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B) V600E mutation. The results for the duplex analysis matched those for the multiplex analysis for KRAS-mutated samples and, owing to its higher sensitivity, enabled detection of 2 additional samples with low levels of KRAS-mutated DNA. All 5 samples with BRAF mutations were detected.
Conclusions: This work demonstrates the clinical utility of multiplex dPCR to screen for multiple mutations simultaneously with a sensitivity sufficient to detect mutations in circulating DNA obtained by noninvasive blood collection.