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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

The Renilla luciferase gene as a reference gene for normalization of gene expression in transiently transfected cells

Meesbah Jiwaji1, Rónán Daly2, Kshama Pansare1, Pauline McLean1, Jingli Yang1, Walter Kolch3 and Andrew R Pitt1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK

2 Inference Group, School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK

3 Systems Biology Ireland and the Conway Institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

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BMC Molecular Biology 2010, 11:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-11-103

Published: 31 December 2010

Abstract

Background

The importance of appropriate normalization controls in quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) experiments has become more apparent as the number of biological studies using this methodology has increased. In developing a system to study gene expression from transiently transfected plasmids, it became clear that normalization using chromosomally encoded genes is not ideal, at it does not take into account the transfection efficiency and the significantly lower expression levels of the plasmids. We have developed and validated a normalization method for qPCR using a co-transfected plasmid.

Results

The best chromosomal gene for normalization in the presence of the transcriptional activators used in this study, cadmium, dexamethasone, forskolin and phorbol-12-myristate 13-acetate was first identified. qPCR data was analyzed using geNorm, Normfinder and BestKeeper. Each software application was found to rank the normalization controls differently with no clear correlation. Including a co-transfected plasmid encoding the Renilla luciferase gene (Rluc) in this analysis showed that its calculated stability was not as good as the optimised chromosomal genes, most likely as a result of the lower expression levels and transfection variability. Finally, we validated these analyses by testing two chromosomal genes (B2M and ActB) and a co-transfected gene (Rluc) under biological conditions. When analyzing co-transfected plasmids, Rluc normalization gave the smallest errors compared to the chromosomal reference genes.

Conclusions

Our data demonstrates that transfected Rluc is the most appropriate normalization reference gene for transient transfection qPCR analysis; it significantly reduces the standard deviation within biological experiments as it takes into account the transfection efficiencies and has easily controllable expression levels. This improves reproducibility, data validity and most importantly, enables accurate interpretation of qPCR data.