Research Article

Maternal serum screening for Down's syndrome in early pregnancy.

BMJ 1988; 297 doi: (Published 08 October 1988) Cite this as: BMJ 1988;297:883

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. N. J. Wald,
  2. H. S. Cuckle,
  3. J. W. Densem,
  4. K. Nanchahal,
  5. P. Royston,
  6. T. Chard,
  7. J. E. Haddow,
  8. G. J. Knight,
  9. G. E. Palomaki,
  10. J. A. Canick
  1. Department of Environmental and Preventive Medicine, Medical College of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London.


    The possibility of improving the effectiveness of antenatal screening for Down's syndrome by measuring human chorionic gonadotrophin concentrations in maternal serum during the second trimester to select women for diagnostic amniocentesis was examined. The median maternal serum human chorionic gonadotrophin concentration in 77 pregnancies associated with Down's syndrome was twice the median concentration in 385 unaffected pregnancies matched for maternal age, gestational age, and duration of storage of the serum sample. Measuring human chorionic gonadotrophin in maternal serum was an effective screening test, giving a lower false positive rate (3%) at a 30% detection rate than that for maternal age (5%) and the two existing serum screening tests, unconjugated oestriol (7%) and alpha fetoprotein (11%). The most effective screening results were obtained with all four variables combined; at the same 30% detection rate the false positive rate declined to 0.5%. The new screening method would detect over 60% of affected pregnancies, more than double that achievable with the same amniocentesis rate in existing programmes (5%), and could reduce the number of children born with Down's syndrome in the United Kingdom from about 900 a year to about 350 a year.