Variation in pre-PCR processing of FFPE samples leads to discrepancies in BRAF and EGFR mutation detection: a diagnostic RING trial

Kapp, J. R.; Diss, T.; Spicer, J.; Gandy, M.; Schrijver, I.; Jennings, L. J.; Li, M. M.; Tsongalis, G. J.; de Castro, D. G.; Bridge, J. A.; Wallace, A.; Deignan, J. L.; Hing, S.; Butler, R.; Verghese, E.; Latham, G. J.; Hamoudi, R. A.

J Clin Pathol. 2014 Nov 29; 68(2):111-8


AIMS: Mutation detection accuracy has been described extensively; however, it is surprising that pre-PCR processing of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples has not been systematically assessed in clinical context. We designed a RING trial to (i) investigate pre-PCR variability, (ii) correlate pre-PCR variation with EGFR/BRAF mutation testing accuracy and (iii) investigate causes for observed variation. METHODS: 13 molecular pathology laboratories were recruited. 104 blinded FFPE curls including engineered FFPE curls, cell-negative FFPE curls and control FFPE tissue samples were distributed to participants for pre-PCR processing and mutation detection. Follow-up analysis was performed to assess sample purity, DNA integrity and DNA quantitation. RESULTS: Rate of mutation detection failure was 11.9%. Of these failures, 80% were attributed to pre-PCR error. Significant differences in DNA yields across all samples were seen using analysis of variance (p<0.0001), and yield variation from engineered samples was not significant (p=0.3782). Two laboratories failed DNA extraction from samples that may be attributed to operator error. DNA extraction protocols themselves were not found to contribute significant variation. 10/13 labs reported yields averaging 235.8 ng (95% CI 90.7 to 380.9) from cell-negative samples, which was attributed to issues with spectrophotometry. DNA measurements using Qubit Fluorometry demonstrated a median fivefold overestimation of DNA quantity by Nanodrop Spectrophotometry. DNA integrity and PCR inhibition were factors not found to contribute significant variation. CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we provide evidence demonstrating that variation in pre-PCR steps is prevalent and may detrimentally affect the patient's ability to receive critical therapy. We provide recommendations for preanalytical workflow optimisation that may reduce errors in down-stream sequencing and for next-generation sequencing library generation.

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