In mature lymphoid disorders, minimal residual disease (MRD) detection based on real time quantitative PCR (RQ-PCR) of immunoglobulin heavy chain gene rearrangement (IgH) has a well-established role in prognostic assessment, particularly in Mantle cell Lymphoma (MCL) and Multiple Myeloma (MM). RQ-PCR has excellent sensitivity and specificity but has a major limitation in its relative quantification nature, as it requires a reference standard curve usually built with dilutions of diagnostic tumor DNA or on plasmids containing the target rearrangement. Droplet Digital PCR (DD-PCR), applying the principle of limiting dilution of DNA and single molecule detection allows a reliable absolute quantification of target. In this study we compared IgH-based MRD detection by RQ-PCR and DD-PCR, to assess whether DD-PCR could achieve the same performances of RQ-PCR in the absence of the limitation mentioned above.


Bone marrow (BM) and peripheral blood (PB) samples were collected from patients affected by MCL and MM in which RQ-PCR based MRD analysis was already performed in the context of prospective clinical trials. In all trials patients gave the informed consent for MRD determination. IgH-based MRD detection by RQ-PCR was carried out as previously described [Ladetto et al. BBMT 2000] and results were interpreted according to the Euro-MRD guidelines [van der Velden et al. Leukemia 2007]. DD-PCR was performed by the QX100 Droplet Digital PCR system (Bio-RAD Inc.) on 500 ng of genomic DNA combined with the same Allele Specific Oligonucleotides (ASO)-primers and TaqMan-probes used in the RQ-PCR. Droplets were generated by QX100 droplet generator. End-point PCR (40 cycles) was performed on a T100 Thermal cycler (Bio-RAD Inc). The PCR product was loaded in the QX100 droplet reader and analyzed by QuantaSoft 1.2 (Bio-Rad Inc). For data interpretation RQ-PCR and DD-PCR results were expressed as amount of target copies per 1E+05 cells. Comparability of MRD results by DD-PCR and RQ-PCR was assessed by means of bivariate correlations between methods analysis (R2.15.1 package irr). Discordances were classified as follows: a positive/negative discordance was defined as major when the positive result was >1E-04 and minor when ≤1E-04; a quantitative discordance was defined as the presence of two positive results with a quantitative discrepancy >1 log.


Overall, 161 samples belonging to 35 patients (18 MCL and 17 MM), 66 MCL and 95 MM were analyzed. 35 samples were taken at diagnosis and 126 at follow-up. 118 were BM while 43 were PB. A significant correlation was found between DD-PCR and RQ-PCR (R2=0.89, p<0.0001) (fig). DD-PCR and RQ-PCR showed superimposable sensitivity (10-5). Specificity in terms of appearance of non-specific amplifications signals in no-template samples (tested for all patients) and reproducibility on 30 replicates (4 samples) were superimposable. 128 out of 161 samples were fully concordant (Choen's K=0.80). MRD detection was concordantly positive in 106/161 (65.8%) samples and concordantly negative in 22/161 samples (13.7%). Only 5/161 (3.1%) samples showed major qualitative discordance. 28/161 (17.4%) samples showed minor qualitative discordance (which might be related to Poisson's statistics). Quantitative discordances were observed in 5/161 (3.1%) of cases (positive non quantifiable (PNQ) cases were conventionally placed to a value intermediate between sensitivity and quantitative range). Interestingly, 17 samples negative by RQ-PCR were scored positive by DD-PCR (median 6 copies, range 2-74) while 16 samples positive by RQ-PCR (median 5 copies, range 2-44) were negative by DD-PCR.


Here we report for the first time the use of DD-PCR in the context of IgH-based MRD evaluation in lymphoproliferative disorders. DD-PCR is a feasible tool for IGH-based MRD monitoring in MCL and MM, reaching similar sensitivities compared to standardized RQ-PCR. Moreover DD-PCR allows bypassing the need of building a standard curve thus considerably reducing the complexity of IgH-based RQ-PCR (need of purified diagnostic tissue or Flow Cytometry-based quantification of tumor load or diagnosis, or building of a plasmid-derived standard curve). Finally DD-PCR might potentially overcome the problem of positive non-quantifiable samples. These features make DD-PCR a feasible and attractive alternative method for IgH-based MRD assessment.


Kubiczkovà:GAP304/10/1395 : Research Funding; MUNI/11/InGA17/2012: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.