Although molecular profiling of DNA isolated from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tumor specimens has become more common in recent years, it remains unclear how discrete FFPE processing variables may affect detection of copy number variation (CNV). To better understand such effects, array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) profiles of FFPE renal cell carcinoma specimens that experienced different delays to fixation (DTFs; 1, 2, 3, and 12 hours) and times in fixative (TIFs; 6, 12, 23, and 72 hours) were compared to snap-frozen tumor and blood specimens from the same patients. A greater number of regions containing CNVs relative to commercial reference DNA were detected in DNA from FFPE tumor specimens than snap-frozen tumor specimens even though they originated from the same tumor blocks. Extended DTF and TIF affected the number of DNA segments with a copy number status that differed between FFPE and frozen tumor specimens; a DTF ≥3 hours led to more segments, while a TIF of 72 hours led to fewer segments. Importantly, effects were not random as a higher guanine-cytosine (GC) content and/or a higher percentage of repeats were observed among stable regions. While limiting aCGH analysis to FFPE specimens with a DTF <3 hours and a TIF <72 hours may circumvent some effects, results from FFPE specimens should be validated against fresh or frozen specimens whenever possible.
Keywords: array comparative genomic hybridization; copy number variation; delay to fixation; formalin; pre-analytic variables; time in fixative.