Detection of Low-Copy Human Virus DNA upon Prolonged Formalin Fixation

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Formalin fixation, albeit an outstanding method for morphological and molecular preservation, induces DNA damage and cross-linking, which can hinder nucleic acid screening. This is of particular concern in the detection of low-abundance targets, such as persistent DNA viruses. In the present study, we evaluated the analytical sensitivity of viral detection in lung, liver, and kidney specimens from four deceased individuals. The samples were either frozen or incubated in formalin (+/- paraffin embedding) for up to 10 days. We tested two DNA extraction protocols for the control of efficient yields and viral detections. We used short-amplicon qPCRs (63-159 nucleotides) to detect 11 DNA viruses, as well as hybridization capture of these plus 27 additional ones, followed by deep sequencing. We observed marginally higher ratios of amplifiable DNA and scantly higher viral genoprevalences in the samples extracted with the FFPE dedicated protocol. Based on the findings in the frozen samples, most viruses were detected regardless of the extended fixation times. False-negative calls, particularly by qPCR, correlated with low levels of viral DNA (150 base pairs). Our data suggest that low-copy viral DNAs can be satisfactorily investigated from FFPE specimens, and encourages further examination of historical materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number133
JournalViruses (Basel)
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • DNA
  • FFPE
  • NGS
  • PCR
  • formalin
  • hybridization capture
  • nucleic acid extraction
  • qPCR
  • virus
  • 3111 Biomedicine
  • 11832 Microbiology and virology

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