Background: The potential use of plasma and serum for molecular diagnosis has generated interest. Tumour DNA has been found in 'the plasma and serum of cancer patients, and molecular analysis has been done on this material. We investigated the equivalent condition in pregnancy-that is, whether fetal DNA is present in maternal plasma and serum.
Methods: We used a rapid-boiling method to extract DNA from plasma and serum. DNA from plasma, serum, and nucleated blood cells from 43 pregnant women underwent a sensitive Y-PCR assay to detect circulating male fetal DNA from women bearing male fetuses.
Findings: Fetus-derived Y sequences were detected in 24 (80%) of the 30 maternal plasma samples, and in 21 (70%) of the 30 maternal serum samples, from women bearing male fetuses. These results were obtained with only 10 microL of the samples. When DNA from nucleated blood cells extracted from a similar volume of blood was used, only five (17%) of the 30 samples gave a positive Y signal. None of the 13 women bearing female fetuses, and none of the ten non-pregnant control women, had positive results for plasma, serum or nucleated blood cells.
Interpretation: Our finding of circulating fetal DNA in maternal plasma may have implications for non-invasive prenatal diagnosis, and for improving our understanding of the fetomaternal relationship.