Research ArticlePregnancy

Rare autosomal trisomies, revealed by maternal plasma DNA sequencing, suggest increased risk of feto-placental disease

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Science Translational Medicine  30 Aug 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 405, eaan1240
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan1240

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A complete look at fetal chromosomes

Genetic analysis of fetal DNA in maternal blood is becoming increasingly common, but the standard clinical tests typically consider only the chromosomes that are most frequently found to be aneuploid: 13, 18, 21, X, and Y. Pertile et al. analyzed patient data from two clinical laboratories and discovered that this approach may be ignoring valuable information. In both cohorts, the authors found a number of rare autosomal trisomies that are not reported on routine testing and showed that these are associated with an increased risk of pregnancy complications, indicating their potential relevance for clinical care.


Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of maternal plasma cell-free DNA (cfDNA) can potentially evaluate all 24 chromosomes to identify abnormalities of the placenta, fetus, or pregnant woman. Current bioinformatics algorithms typically only report on chromosomes 21, 18, 13, X, and Y; sequencing results from other chromosomes may be masked. We hypothesized that by systematically analyzing WGS data from all chromosomes, we could identify rare autosomal trisomies (RATs) to improve understanding of feto-placental biology. We analyzed two independent cohorts from clinical laboratories, both of which used a similar quality control parameter, normalized chromosome denominator quality. The entire data set included 89,817 samples. Samples flagged for analysis and classified as abnormal were 328 of 72,932 (0.45%) and 71 of 16,885 (0.42%) in cohorts 1 and 2, respectively. Clinical outcome data were available for 57 of 71 (80%) of abnormal cases in cohort 2. Visual analysis of WGS data demonstrated RATs, copy number variants, and extensive genome-wide imbalances. Trisomies 7, 15, 16, and 22 were the most frequently observed RATs in both cohorts. Cytogenetic or pregnancy outcome data were available in 52 of 60 (87%) of cases with RATs in cohort 2. Cases with RATs detected were associated with miscarriage, true fetal mosaicism, and confirmed or suspected uniparental disomy. Comparing the trisomic fraction with the fetal fraction allowed estimation of possible mosaicism. Analysis and reporting of aneuploidies in all chromosomes can clarify cases in which cfDNA findings on selected “target” chromosomes (21, 18, and 13) are discordant with the fetal karyotype and may identify pregnancies at risk of miscarriage and other complications.

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