PURPOSE: Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) has been used for disease monitoring in several types of cancer. The aim of our study was to investigate whether ctDNA can be used for response monitoring in neuroblastoma.
METHODS: One hundred forty-nine plasma samples from 56 patients were analyzed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for total cell free DNA (cfDNA; albumin and β-actin) and ctDNA (hypermethylated RASSF1A). ctDNA results were compared with mRNA-based minimal residual disease (qPCR) in bone marrow (BM) and blood and clinical patient characteristics.
RESULTS: ctDNA was detected at diagnosis in all patients with high-risk and stage M neuroblastoma and in 3 of 7 patients with localized disease. The levels of ctDNA were highest at diagnosis, decreased during induction therapy, and not detected before or after autologous stem-cell transplantation. At relapse, the amount of ctDNA was comparable to levels at diagnosis. There was an association between ctDNA and blood or BM mRNA, with concordant results when tumor burden was high or no tumor was detected. The discrepancies indicated either low-level BM infiltration (ctDNA negative/mRNA positive) or primary tumor/soft tissue lesions with no BM involvement (ctDNA positive/mRNA negative).
CONCLUSION: ctDNA can be used for monitoring disease in patients with neuroblastoma. In high-risk patients and all patients with stage M at diagnosis, ctDNA is present. Our data indicate that at low tumor load, testing of both ctDNA and mRNA increases the sensitivity of molecular disease monitoring. It is likely that ctDNA can originate from both primary tumor and metastases and may be of special interest for disease monitoring in patients who experience relapse in other organs than BM.