Liquid biopsy is a broad term that refers to the testing of body fluids for biomarkers that correlate with a pathological condition. While a variety of body-fluid components (e.g., circulating tumor cells, extracellular vesicles, RNA, proteins, and metabolites) are studied as potential liquid biopsy biomarkers, cell-free DNA (cfDNA) has attracted the most attention in recent years. The total cfDNA population in a typical biospecimen represents an immensely rich source of biological and pathological information and has demonstrated significant potential as a versatile biomarker in oncology, non-invasive prenatal testing, and transplant monitoring. As a significant portion of cfDNA is composed of repeat DNA sequences and some families (e.g., pericentric satellites) were recently shown to be overrepresented in cfDNA populations vs their genomic abundance, it holds great potential for developing liquid biopsy-based biomarkers for the early detection and management of patients with cancer. By outlining research that employed cell-free repeat DNA sequences, in particular the ALU and LINE-1 elements, we highlight the clinical potential of the repeat-element content of cfDNA as an underappreciated marker in the cancer liquid biopsy repertoire.
Keywords: ALU; LINE-1; cancer; cell-free DNA; liquid biopsy; repeat elements; satellite DNA.