Optimized mtDNA Control Region Primer Extension Capture Analysis for Forensically Relevant Samples and Highly Compromised mtDNA of Different Age and Origin

Genes (Basel). 2017 Sep 21;8(10):237. doi: 10.3390/genes8100237.


The analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has proven useful in forensic genetics and ancient DNA (aDNA) studies, where specimens are often highly compromised and DNA quality and quantity are low. In forensic genetics, the mtDNA control region (CR) is commonly sequenced using established Sanger-type Sequencing (STS) protocols involving fragment sizes down to approximately 150 base pairs (bp). Recent developments include Massively Parallel Sequencing (MPS) of (multiplex) PCR-generated libraries using the same amplicon sizes. Molecular genetic studies on archaeological remains that harbor more degraded aDNA have pioneered alternative approaches to target mtDNA, such as capture hybridization and primer extension capture (PEC) methods followed by MPS. These assays target smaller mtDNA fragment sizes (down to 50 bp or less), and have proven to be substantially more successful in obtaining useful mtDNA sequences from these samples compared to electrophoretic methods. Here, we present the modification and optimization of a PEC method, earlier developed for sequencing the Neanderthal mitochondrial genome, with forensic applications in mind. Our approach was designed for a more sensitive enrichment of the mtDNA CR in a single tube assay and short laboratory turnaround times, thus complying with forensic practices. We characterized the method using sheared, high quantity mtDNA (six samples), and tested challenging forensic samples (n = 2) as well as compromised solid tissue samples (n = 15) up to 8 kyrs of age. The PEC MPS method produced reliable and plausible mtDNA haplotypes that were useful in the forensic context. It yielded plausible data in samples that did not provide results with STS and other MPS techniques. We addressed the issue of contamination by including four generations of negative controls, and discuss the results in the forensic context. We finally offer perspectives for future research to enable the validation and accreditation of the PEC MPS method for final implementation in forensic genetic laboratories.

Keywords: Massively Parallel Sequencing; forensic science; mitochondrial DNA; primer extension capture.