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Circulating MicroRNA Quantification Using DNA-binding Dye Chemistry and Droplet Digital PCR

Published: June 26th, 2016



1Department of Experimental, Diagnostic and Specialty Medicine - DIMES, University of Bologna, 2Department of Morphology, Surgery and Experimental Medicine, University of Ferrara, 3Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, University of Ferrara, 4Department of Morphology, Surgery and Experimental Medicine and Laboratory for Technologies of Advanced Therapies (LTTA), University of Ferrara

A sensitive and accurate method for cell-free microRNAs quantification using a dye-based chemistry and droplet digital PCR technology is described.

Circulating (of cell-free) microRNAs (miRNAs) are released from cells into the blood stream. The amount of specific microRNAs in the circulation has been linked to a disease state and has the potential to be used as disease biomarker. A sensitive and accurate method for circulating microRNA quantification using a dye-based chemistry and droplet digital PCR technology has been recently developed. Specifically, using Locked Nucleic Acid (LNA)-based miRNA-specific primers with a green fluorescent DNA-binding dye in a compatible droplet digital PCR system it is possible to obtain the absolute quantification of specific miRNAs. Here, we describe how performing this technique to assess miRNA amount in biological fluids, such as plasma and serum, is both feasible and effective.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are released into blood circulation by potentially all the cells of the organism, as a consequence of active release or necrotic and apoptotic processes. Cell-free miRNAs have been detected in the bloodstream either as free stable molecules or linked to lipoproteins or enveloped inside exosomes and microvesicles 1-3. They are believed to function as cell-to-cell communicators 4, and their amount changes in the presence of cancer, cardiac disorders or autoimmune diseases 5-7. Their accurate and reproducible quantification is the basis for their evaluation as disease biomarkers. However, for several reasons already des....

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MicroRNA Isolation from Plasma or Serum

Note: Plasma and serum preparation is a relevant step in circulating miRNA quantification. There is no preferred procedure for plasma and serum preparation. The only important thing to consider is that all the samples from the same experiment must be processed using exactly the same workflow. Start from 200 µl serum or plasma. Total RNA can be isolated from serum or plasma using commercially available kits.

1. Protocol for Total RNA (including mi.......

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The absolute amount of specific miRNAs per ml of plasma or serum can be determined using a green fluorescent DNA-binding dye and droplet digital PCR technology. Figure 1 presents the process of positive-droplets selection, which determines the final miRNA concentration (copies/µl) in the amplification reaction calculated by the analysis software. The amount of each miRNA in the blood is very different, being some miRNA species more abundant than others. Using a 1:50 .......

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Circulating miRNAs are present in blood at extremely low concentrations and the amount of RNA that can be extracted from plasma and serum samples is low. For this reason, they are difficult to quantify with other techniques such as microarray and RNA sequencing. Moreover, there is a generalized lack of agreement on data normalization and the presence of endogenous "reference" miRNAs in the blood. In this context, a sensitive technology like droplet digital PCR, capable of counting the number of miRNA copies per m.......

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Supported by funding from the Italian Association for Cancer Research (AIRC) to MF (MFAG 11676) and to MN (Special Program Molecular Clinical Oncology - 5 per mille n. 9980, 2010/15) and from the Italian Ministry of Instruction, University and Research FIRB 2011 to MN (Project RBAPIIBYNP).


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
miRNeasy Mini Kit Qiagen 217004 Columns for total RNA, including miRNA, extraction from serum/plasma
100 nmole RNA oligo Cel-miR-39-3p Integrated DNA Technologies Custom Sequence: UCACCGGGUGUAAAUCAGCUUG
Universal cDNA synthesis kit II, 8-64 rxns Exiqon 203301 Kit for microRNA reverse transcription
MicroRNA LNA PCR primer set  Exiqon 204000-206xxx and 2100000-21xxxxx Primers for miRNA amplification inside droplets
QX200 droplet generator BioRad 186-4002 Instrument used for droplet reading
QX200 droplet reader BioRad 186-4003 Instrument used for droplet generation
QuantaSoft software BioRad 186-3007 Software for data collection and analysis
PX1 PCR plate sealer BioRad 181-4000 Plate sealer
DG8 droplet generator cartridges and gaskets BioRad 186-4008 Cartridges used to mix sample and oil to generate droplets
QX200 ddPCR EvaGreen supermix BioRad 186-4033/36 PCR supermix
QX200 droplet generator oil for EvaGreen dye BioRad 186-4005 Oil for droplet generation

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