Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction for expression of tyrosinase to identify malignant melanoma cells in peripheral blood

K. Pittman, S. Burchill, B. Smith, J. Southgate, J. Joffe, M. Gore, P. Selby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Circulating tumour cells in the peripheral blood may be important for haematogenous spread of disease. The detection of these cells may therefore be a poor prognostic indicator. Reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) of target tumour-specific protein expression has been used as a sensitive and specific method for the detection of these tumour cells. Initial reports by our laboratory and others suggested RT-PCR amplification of the enzyme tyrosinase is a useful method for detection of melanoma cells in peripheral blood [1-3]. Patients and methods: In this report, we have evaluated the application of RT-PCR for tyrosinase mRNA as a detection method for melanoma cells in a series of 24 patients with advanced, metastatic malignant melanoma. A single round RT-PCR method is described. Results: The single round RT-PCR was as sensitive as previously described nested PCR methods, and had the advantage of reduced contamination risks. Blood samples from three out of the twenty-four patients were positive. Conclusions: The frequency of tumour cell detection in peripheral blood from patients with advanced disease was lower than previously reported. It may be only small numbers of circulating tumour cells are present at any one time in the peripheral blood of patients with malignant melanoma. If this is the case increased sampling will improve detection frequency. Alternatively, dissemination of melanoma through peripheral blood may be a rare event. In our experience, RT-PCR for tyrosinase mRNA as a staging test for melanoma patients must be interpreted cautiously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-301
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of oncology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 1996


  • Disseminating disease
  • Melanoma
  • RT-PCR
  • Tyrosinase

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