Precise Quantitation of MicroRNA in a Single Cell with Droplet Digital PCR Based on Ligation Reaction

Abstract

MicroRNA (miRNA) analysis in a single cell is extremely important because it allows deep understanding of the exact correlation between the miRNAs and cell functions. Herein, we wish to report a highly sensitive and precisely quantitative assay for miRNA detection based on ligation-based droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR), which permits the quantitation of miRNA in a single cell. In this ligation-based ddPCR assay, two target-specific oligonucleotide probes can be simply designed to be complementary to the half-sequence of the target miRNA, respectively, which avoids the sophisticated design of reverse transcription and provides high specificity to discriminate a single-base difference among miRNAs with simple operations. After the miRNA-templated ligation, the ddPCR partitions individual ligated products into a water-in-oil droplet and digitally counts the fluorescence-positive and negative droplets after PCR amplification for quantification of the target molecules, which possesses the power of precise quantitation and robustness to variation in PCR efficiency. By integrating the advantages of the precise quantification of ddPCR and the simplicity of the ligation-based PCR, the proposed method can sensitively measure let-7a miRNA with a detection limit of 20 aM (12 copies per microliter), and even a single-base difference can be discriminated in let-7 family members. More importantly, due to its high selectivity and sensitivity, the proposed method can achieve precise quantitation of miRNAs in single-cell lysate. Therefore, the ligation-based ddPCR assay may serve as a useful tool to exactly reveal the miRNAs’ actions in a single cell, which is of great importance for the study of miRNAs’ biofunction as well as for the related biomedical studies

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