Background: Screening tests for Trisomy 21 (T21), also known as Down syndrome, are routinely performed for the majority of pregnant women. However, current tests rely on either evaluating non-specific markers, which lead to false negative and false positive results, or on invasive tests, which while highly accurate, are expensive and carry a risk of fetal loss. We outline a novel, rapid, highly sensitive, and targeted approach to non-invasively detect fetal T21 using maternal plasma DNA.
Methods and Findings: Highly heterozygous tandem Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) sequences on chromosome 21 were analyzed using High-Fidelity PCR and Cycling Temperature Capillary Electrophoresis (CTCE). This approach was used to blindly analyze plasma DNA obtained from peripheral blood from 40 high risk pregnant women, in adherence to a Medical College of Wisconsin Institutional Review Board approved protocol. Tandem SNP sequences were informative when the mother was heterozygous and a third paternal haplotype was present, permitting a quantitative comparison between the maternally inherited haplotype and the paternally inherited haplotype to infer fetal chromosomal dosage by calculating a Haplotype Ratio (HR). 27 subjects were assessable; 13 subjects were not informative due to either low DNA yield or were not informative at the tandem SNP sequences examined. All results were confirmed by a procedure (amniocentesis/CVS) or at postnatal follow-up. Twenty subjects were identified as carrying a disomy 21 fetus (with two copies of chromosome 21) and seven subjects were identified as carrying a T21 fetus. The sensitivity and the specificity of the assay was 100% when HR values lying between 3/5 and 5/3 were used as a threshold for normal subjects.
Conclusions: In summary, a targeted approach, based on calculation of Haplotype Ratios from tandem SNP sequences combined with a sensitive and quantitative DNA measurement technology can be used to accurately detect fetal T21 in maternal plasma when sufficient fetal DNA is present in maternal plasma.