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Open Access Research article

Normalization with genes encoding ribosomal proteins but not GAPDH provides an accurate quantification of gene expressions in neuronal differentiation of PC12 cells

Lihan Zhou12, Qing-En Lim1, Guoqiang Wan12 and Heng-Phon Too12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, National University of Singapore, 119260, Singapore

2 Chemical Pharmaceutical Engineering, Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alliance, 117576, Singapore

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:75  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-75

Published: 29 January 2010



Gene regulation at transcript level can provide a good indication of the complex signaling mechanisms underlying physiological and pathological processes. Transcriptomic methods such as microarray and quantitative real-time PCR require stable reference genes for accurate normalization of gene expression. Some but not all studies have shown that housekeeping genes (HGKs), β-actin (ACTB) and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), which are routinely used for normalization, may vary significantly depending on the cell/tissue type and experimental conditions. It is currently unclear if these genes are stably expressed in cells undergoing drastic morphological changes during neuronal differentiation. Recent meta-analysis of microarray datasets showed that some but not all of the ribosomal protein genes are stably expressed. To test the hypothesis that some ribosomal protein genes can serve as reference genes for neuronal differentiation, a genome-wide analysis was performed and putative reference genes were identified based on stability of expressions. The stabilities of these potential reference genes were then analyzed by reverse transcription quantitative real-time PCR in six differentiation conditions.


Twenty stably expressed genes, including thirteen ribosomal protein genes, were selected from microarray analysis of the gene expression profiles of GDNF and NGF induced differentiation of PC12 cells. The expression levels of these candidate genes as well as ACTB and GAPDH were further analyzed by reverse transcription quantitative real-time PCR in PC12 cells differentiated with a variety of stimuli including NGF, GDNF, Forskolin, KCl and ROCK inhibitor, Y27632. The performances of these candidate genes as stable reference genes were evaluated with two independent statistical approaches, geNorm and NormFinder.


The ribosomal protein genes, RPL19 and RPL29, were identified as suitable reference genes during neuronal differentiation of PC12 cells, regardless of the type of differentiation conditions. The combination of these two novel reference genes, but not the commonly used HKG, GAPDH, allows robust and accurate normalization of differentially expressed genes during PC12 differentiation.