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Interpreting epidemiological research: blinded comparison of methods used to estimate the prevalence of inherited mutations inBRCA1


While sequence analysis is considered by many to be the most sensitive method of detecting unknown mutations in large genes such asBRCA1, most published estimates of the prevalence of mutations in this gene have been derived from studies that have used other methods of gene analysis. In order to determine the relative sensitivity of techniques that are widely used in research on BRCA1, a set of blinded samples containing 58 distinct mutations were analysed by four separate laboratories. Each used one of the following methods: single strand conformational polymorphism analysis (SSCP), conformation sensitive gel electrophoresis (CSGE), two dimensional gene scanning (TDGS), and denaturing high performance liquid chromatography (DHPLC). Only the laboratory using DHPLC correctly identified each of the mutations. The laboratory using TDGS correctly identified 91% of the mutations but produced three apparent false positive results. The laboratories using SSCP and CSGE detected abnormal migration for 72% and 76% of the mutations, respectively, but subsequently confirmed and reported only 65% and 60% of mutations, respectively. False negatives therefore resulted not only from failure of the techniques to distinguish wild type from mutant, but also from failure to confirm the mutation by sequence analysis as well as from human errors leading to misreporting of results. These findings characterise sources of error in commonly used methods of mutation detection that should be addressed by laboratories using these methods. Based upon sources of error identified in this comparison, it is likely that mutations inBRCA1 and BRCA2are more prevalent than some studies have previously reported. The findings of this comparison provide a basis for interpreting studies of mutations in susceptibility genes across many inherited cancer syndromes.

  • BRCA1
  • mutation detection
  • cancer genetics

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  • * Names of the BIC Steering Committee appear in the .

  • SSCP team†: Renata Zaucha, Nicola M Suter, Elaine Ostrander.

  • CSGE Team‡: Marlies Hoogenboom, Ronald van Eijk, Cees J Cornelisse, Peter Devilee.

  • TDGS team§: Nathalie J van Orsouw, Loyda Torres, Esther Vrins, Sean McGrath, Jan Vijg.

  • DHPLC team¶: Regina Moeslinger, Peter J Oefner, Daniela Muhr, Teresa M U Wagner.

  • Myriad team**: Amie M Deffenbaugh, Robin K Zawacki, Thomas S Frank.