Inhibition of the PCR by genomic DNA

Sue Latham, Elizabeth Hughes, Bradley Budgen, Alexander Morley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: qPCR, is widely used for quantifying minimal residual disease (MRD) and is conventionally performed according to guidelines proposed by the EuroMRD consortium. However it often fails when quantifying MRD levels below 10−4. By contrast, HAT-PCR, a recent modification designed to minimise false-positive results, can quantify MRD down to 10−6

Methods: The factors leading to failure of conventional qPCR to quantify low levels of MRD were studied by analysing PCR reagents, protocol and primers and by testing for inhibition by adding primers to a plasmid amplification system. Complementary primers, ending in either G/C or A/T, were used to determine the effect of the 3' end of a primer. 

Results: Inhibition of conventional PCR resulted from interaction of primers with genomic DNA leading to exponential amplification of nonspecific amplicons. It was observed with approximately half of the EuroMRD J primers tested. Inhibition by a primer was significantly related to primer Tm and G/C content and was absent when extension at the 3' end was blocked. Nonspecificity and inhibition were decreased or abolished by increasing the annealing temperature and inhibition was decreased by increasing the concentration of polymerase. Primers terminating with G/C produced significantly more nonspecificity and inhibition than primers terminating with A/T. HAT-PCR produced minimal nonspecificity and no inhibition. 

Conclusions: Inhibition of the PCR may result from the presence of genomic DNA and resultant exponential amplification of nonspecific amplicons. Factors contributing to the phenomenon include suboptimal annealing temperature, suboptimal primer design, and suboptimal polymerase concentration. Optimisation of these factors, as in HAT-PCR, enables sensitive quantification of MRD. PCR assays are increasingly used for sensitive detection of other rare targets against a background of genomic DNA and such assays may benefit from similar improvement in PCR design.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0284538
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2023


  • qPCR
  • Genomic DNA
  • minimal residual disease (MRD)


Dive into the research topics of 'Inhibition of the PCR by genomic DNA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this