Comprehensive evaluation of targeted multiplex bisulphite PCR sequencing for validation of DNA methylation biomarker panels

Dilys Lam, Phuc Loi Luu, Jenny Z. Song, Wenjia Qu, Gail P. Risbridger, Mitchell G. Lawrence, Jennifer Lu, Matt Trau, Darren Korbie, Susan J. Clark, Ruth Pidsley, Clare Stirzaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: DNA methylation is a well-studied epigenetic mark that is frequently altered in diseases such as cancer, where specific changes are known to reflect the type and severity of the disease. Therefore, there is a growing interest in assessing the clinical utility of DNA methylation as a biomarker for diagnosing disease and guiding treatment. The development of an accurate loci-specific methylation assay, suitable for use on low-input clinical material, is crucial for advancing DNA methylation biomarkers into a clinical setting. A targeted multiplex bisulphite PCR sequencing approach meets these needs by allowing multiple DNA methylated regions to be interrogated simultaneously in one experiment on limited clinical material. Results: Here, we provide an updated protocol and recommendations for multiplex bisulphite PCR sequencing (MBPS) assays for target DNA methylation analysis. We describe additional steps to improve performance and reliability: (1) pre-sequencing PCR optimisation which includes assessing the optimal PCR cycling temperature and primer concentration and (2) post-sequencing PCR optimisation to achieve uniform coverage of each amplicon. We use a gradient of methylated controls to demonstrate how PCR bias can be assessed and corrected. Methylated controls also allow assessment of the sensitivity of methylation detection for each amplicon. Here, we show that the MBPS assay can amplify as little as 0.625 ng starting DNA and can detect methylation differences of 1% with a sequencing coverage of 1000 reads. Furthermore, the multiplex bisulphite PCR assay can comprehensively interrogate multiple regions on 1-5 ng of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded DNA or circulating cell-free DNA. Conclusions: The MBPS assay is a valuable approach for assessing methylated DNA regions in clinical samples with limited material. The optimisation and additional quality control steps described here improve the performance and reliability of this method, advancing it towards potential clinical applications in biomarker studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number90
Number of pages16
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2020


  • Bisulphite amplicon sequencing
  • Clinical biomarkers
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Methylome
  • Multiplex

Cite this