Published: November 16, 2018
Journal: Plos One
Droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) is being advocated as a reference method to measure rare genomic targets. It has consistently been proven to be more sensitive and direct at discerning copy numbers of DNA than other quantitative methods. However, one of the largest obstacles to measuring microRNA (miRNA) using ddPCR is that reverse transcription efficiency depends upon the target, meaning small RNA nucleotide composition directly effects primer specificity in a manner that prevents traditional quantitation optimization strategies. Additionally, the use of reagents that are optimized for miRNA measurements using quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) appear to either cause false positive or false negative detection of certain targets when used with traditional ddPCR quantification methods. False readings are often related to using inadequate enzymes, primers and probes. Given that two-step miRNA quantification using ddPCR relies solely on reverse transcription and uses proprietary reagents previously optimized only for qRT-PCR, these barriers are substantial. Therefore, here we outline essential controls, optimization techniques, and an efficacy model to improve the quality of ddPCR miRNA measurements. We have applied two-step principles used for miRNA qRT-PCR measurements and leveraged the use of synthetic miRNA targets to evaluate ddPCR following cDNA synthesis with four different commercial kits. We have identified inefficiencies and limitations as well as proposed ways to circumvent identified obstacles. Lastly, we show that we can apply these criteria to a model system to confidently quantify miRNA copy number. Our measurement technique is a novel way to quantify specific miRNA copy number in a single sample, without using standard curves for individual experiments. Our methodology can be used for validation and control measurements, as well as a diagnostic technique that allows scientists, technicians, clinicians, and regulators to base miRNA measures on a single unit of measurement rather than a ratio of values.