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Single-molecule sequencing reveals a large population of long cell-free DNA molecules in maternal plasma [Medical Sciences]
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  (IF11.205),  Pub Date : 2021-12-14, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2114937118
Stephanie C. Y. Yu, Peiyong Jiang, Wenlei Peng, Suk Hang Cheng, Y. T. Tommy Cheung, O. Y. Olivia Tse, Huimin Shang, Liona C. Poon, Tak Y. Leung, K. C. Allen Chan, Rossa W. K. Chiu, Y. M. Dennis Lo

In the field of circulating cell-free DNA, most of the studies have focused on short DNA molecules (e.g., <500 bp). The existence of long cell-free DNA molecules has been poorly explored. In this study, we demonstrated that single-molecule real-time sequencing allowed us to detect and analyze a substantial proportion of long DNA molecules from both fetal and maternal sources in maternal plasma. Such molecules were beyond the size detection limits of short-read sequencing technologies. The proportions of long cell-free DNA molecules in maternal plasma over 500 bp were 15.5%, 19.8%, and 32.3% for the first, second, and third trimesters, respectively. The longest fetal-derived plasma DNA molecule observed was 23,635 bp. Long plasma DNA molecules demonstrated predominance of A or G 5′ fragment ends. Pregnancies with preeclampsia demonstrated a reduction in long maternal plasma DNA molecules, reduced frequencies for selected 5′ 4-mer end motifs ending with G or A, and increased frequencies for selected motifs ending with T or C. Finally, we have developed an approach that employs the analysis of methylation patterns of the series of CpG sites on a long DNA molecule for determining its tissue origin. This approach achieved an area under the curve of 0.88 in differentiating between fetal and maternal plasma DNA molecules, enabling the determination of maternal inheritance and recombination events in the fetal genome. This work opens up potential clinical utilities of long cell-free DNA analysis in maternal plasma including noninvasive prenatal testing of monogenic diseases and detection/monitoring of pregnancy-associated disorders such as preeclampsia.