Open Access Methodology article

Absolute estimation of initial concentrations of amplicon in a real-time RT-PCR process

Marjo V Smith1*, Chris R Miller23, Michael Kohn24, Nigel J Walker2 and Chris J Portier2

Author Affiliations

1 Constella Group, Suite 200, 2605 Meridian Pky, Durham, NC, USA

2 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA

3 Now at Applied Biosystems Inc, USA

4 Now deceased

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BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:409  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-409

Published: 23 October 2007



Since real time PCR was first developed, several approaches to estimating the initial quantity of template in an RT-PCR reaction have been tried. While initially only the early thermal cycles corresponding to exponential duplication were used, lately there has been an effort to use all of the cycles in a PCR. The efforts have included both fitting empirical sigmoid curves and more elaborate mechanistic models that explore the chemical reactions taking place during each cycle. The more elaborate mechanistic models require many more parameters than can be fit from a single amplification, while the empirical models provide little insight and are difficult to tailor to specific reactants.


We directly estimate the initial amount of amplicon using a simplified mechanistic model based on chemical reactions in the annealing step of the PCR. The basic model includes the duplication of DNA with the digestion of Taqman probe and the re-annealing between previously synthesized DNA strands of opposite orientation. By modelling the amount of Taqman probe digested and matching that with the observed fluorescence, the conversion factor between the number of fluorescing dye molecules and observed fluorescent emission can be estimated, along with the absolute initial amount of amplicon and the rate parameter for re-annealing. The model is applied to several PCR reactions with known amounts of amplicon and is shown to work reasonably well. An expanded version of the model allows duplication of amplicon without release of fluorescent dye, by adding 1 more parameter to the model. The additional process is helpful in most cases where the initial primer concentration exceeds the initial probe concentration. Software for applying the algorithm to data may be downloaded at webcite


We present proof of the principle that a mechanistically based model can be fit to observations from a single PCR amplification. Initial amounts of amplicon are well estimated without using a standard solution. Using the ratio of the predicted initial amounts of amplicon from 2 PCRs is shown to work well even when the absolute amounts of amplicon are underestimated in the individual PCRs.