Fetal nucleated cells in maternal peripheral blood: frequency and relationship to gestational age

Hum Genet. 1993 Jun;91(5):427-32. doi: 10.1007/BF00217766.


To determine the frequency of fetal nucleated cells in maternal peripheral blood during different stages of pregnancy, 50 primigravidas were investigated by determining the frequency of cells with the Y chromosome using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) of Y-specific repetitive sequences of the DYZ1 family. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifying the same part of the DYZ1 used as the probe in FISH and a single-copy Y-specific fragment was also carried out for genomic DNA from the same samples. Cells with the hybridization signal were detected by FISH at and after 15 weeks of pregnancy in all pregnant women who gave birth to boys. The ratio of cells with the signal to those without the signal ranged from 1 in 144,000 to 1 in 4,000 with a tendency to increase as the pregnancy advanced. The frequency of fetal cells estimated by the PCR experiments was significantly and positively correlated with that found by FISH. The present study suggests that fetal nucleated cells increase in maternal peripheral blood with advancing gestation, from less than 1 in 100,000 nucleated cells in the first trimester to around 1 in 10,000 at term. These frequencies were much lower than those reported by cytological methods.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Cell Count
  • Blood Specimen Collection
  • Cell Separation
  • DNA / blood*
  • Erythrocytes / cytology
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / cytology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Male
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Y Chromosome*


  • DNA