Assessing an improved protocol for plasma microRNA extraction

PLoS One. 2013 Dec 23;8(12):e82753. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082753. eCollection 2013.


The first step in biomarkers discovery is to identify the best protocols for their purification and analysis. This issue is critical when considering peripheral blood samples (plasma and serum) that are clinically interesting but meet several methodological problems, mainly complexity and low biomarker concentration. Analysis of small molecules, such as circulating microRNAs, should overcome these disadvantages. The present study describes an optimal RNA extraction method of microRNAs from human plasma samples. Different reagents and commercially available kits have been analyzed, identifying also the best pre-analytical conditions for plasma isolation. Between all of them, the column-based approaches were shown to be the most effective. In this context, miRNeasy Serum/Plasma Kit (from Qiagen) rendered more concentrated RNA, that was better suited for microarrays studies and did not require extra purification steps for sample concentration and purification than phenol based extraction methods. We also present evidences that the addition of low doses of an RNA carrier before starting the extraction process improves microRNA purification while an already published carrier dose can result in significant bias over microRNA profiles. Quality controls for best protocol selection were developed by spectrophotometry measurement of contaminants and microfluidics electrophoresis (Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer) for RNA integrity. Selected donor and patient plasma samples and matched biopsies were tested by Affymetrix microarray technology to compare differentially expressed microRNAs. In summary, this study defines an optimized protocol for microRNA purification from human blood samples, increasing the performance of assays and shedding light over the best way to discover and use these biomarkers in clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biochemistry / methods*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • MicroRNAs / isolation & purification*
  • Nanotechnology
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Spectrophotometry


  • MicroRNAs

Grant support

Supported by public fundings from the “Fondo de Investigaciones Sanitarias, Instituto de Salud Carlos III: CA10/01027 and FIS PS09/01827”, and a grant from GETECCU/Otsuka 2010. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.