Stability of Circulating Blood-Based MicroRNAs - Pre-Analytic Methodological Considerations

Charlotte Glinge, Sebastian Clauss, Kim Boddum, Reza Jabbari, Javad Jabbari, Bjarke Risgaard, Philipp Tomsits, Bianca Hildebrand, Stefan Kääb, Reza Wakili, Thomas Jespersen, Jacob Tfelt-Hansen

    242 Citations (Scopus)


    BACKGROUND AND AIM: The potential of microRNAs (miRNA) as non-invasive diagnostic, prognostic, and predictive biomarkers, as well as therapeutic targets, has recently been recognized. Previous studies have highlighted the importance of consistency in the methodology used, but to our knowledge, no study has described the methodology of sample preparation and storage systematically with respect to miRNAs as blood biomarkers. The aim of this study was to investigate the stability of miRNAs in blood under various relevant clinical and research conditions: different collection tubes, storage at different temperatures, physical disturbance, as well as serial freeze-thaw cycles.

    METHODS: Blood samples were collected from 12 healthy donors into different collection tubes containing anticoagulants, including EDTA, citrate and lithium-heparin, as well as into serum collection tubes. MiRNA stability was evaluated by measuring expression changes of miR-1, miR-21 and miR-29b at different conditions: varying processing time of whole blood (up to 72 hours (h)), long-term storage (9 months at -80°C), physical disturbance (1 and 8 h), as well as in a series of freeze/thaw cycles (1 and 4 times).

    RESULTS: Different collection tubes revealed comparable concentrations of miR-1, miR-21 and miR-29b. Tubes with lithium-heparin were found unsuitable for miRNA quantification. MiRNA levels were stable for at least 24 h at room temperature in whole blood, while separated fractions did show alterations within 24 h. There were significant changes in the miR-21 and miR-29b levels after 72 h incubation of whole blood at room temperature (p<0.01 for both). Both miR-1 and miR-21 showed decreased levels after physical disturbance for 8 h in separated plasma and miR-1 in serum whole blood, while after 1 h of disturbance no changes were observed. Storage of samples at -80°C extended the miRNA stability remarkably, however, miRNA levels in long-term stored (9 months) whole blood samples were significantly changed, which is in contrast to the plasma samples, where miR-21 or miR-29b levels were found to be stable. Repetitive (n = 4) freeze-thaw cycles resulted in a significant reduction of miRNA concentration both in plasma and serum samples.

    CONCLUSION: This study highlights the importance of proper and systematic sample collection and preparation when measuring circulating miRNAs, e.g., in context of clinical trials. We demonstrated that the type of collection tubes, preparation, handling and storage of samples should be standardized to avoid confounding variables influencing the results.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalP L o S One
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)e0167969
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Biomarkers
    • Blood Specimen Collection
    • Female
    • Healthy Volunteers
    • Humans
    • Male
    • MicroRNAs
    • RNA Stability
    • Temperature
    • Journal Article


    Dive into the research topics of 'Stability of Circulating Blood-Based MicroRNAs - Pre-Analytic Methodological Considerations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this