Background: Genomic hybridization platforms, including BAC-CGH and genotyping arrays, have been used to estimate chromosome copy number (CN) in tumor samples by detecting the relative strength of genomic signal. The methods rely on the assumption that the predominant chromosomal background of the samples is diploid, an assumption that is frequently incorrect for tumor samples. In addition to generally greater resolution, an advantage of genotyping arrays over CGH arrays is the ability to detect signals from individual alleles, allowing estimation of loss-of-heterozygosity (LOH) and allelic ratios to enhance the interpretation of copy number alterations. Copy number events associated with LOH potentially have the same genetic consequences as deletions. Results: We have utilized allelic ratios to detect patterns that are indicative of higher ploidy levels. An integrated analysis using allelic ratios, total signal and LOH indicates that many or most of the chromosomes from 24 glioblastoma tumors are in fact aneuploid. Some putative whole-chromosome losses actually represent trisomy, and many apparent sub-chromosomal losses are in fact relative losses against a triploid or tetraploid background. Conclusion: These results suggest a re-interpretation of previous findings based only on total signal ratios. One interesting observation is that many single or multiple-copy deletions occur at common putative tumor suppressor sites subsequent to chromosomal duplication; these losses do not necessarily result in LOH, but nonetheless occur in conspicuous patterns. The 500 K Mapping array was also capable of detecting many sub-mega base losses and gains that were overlooked by CGH-BAC arrays, and was superior to CGH-BAC arrays in resolving regions of complex CN variation.
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