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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Relative quantification of mRNA: comparison of methods currently used for real-time PCR data analysis

Štefan Čikoš*, Alexandra Bukovská and Juraj Koppel

Author Affiliations

Institute of Animal Physiology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Šoltésovej 4, 04001 Košice, Slovakia

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BMC Molecular Biology 2007, 8:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-8-113

Published: 20 December 2007



Fluorescent data obtained from real-time PCR must be processed by some method of data analysis to obtain the relative quantity of target mRNA. The method chosen for data analysis can strongly influence results of the quantification.


To compare the performance of six techniques which are currently used for analysing fluorescent data in real-time PCR relative quantification, we quantified four cytokine transcripts (IL-1β, IL-6 TNF-α, and GM-CSF) in an in vivo model of colonic inflammation. Accuracy of the methods was tested by quantification on samples with known relative amounts of target mRNAs. Reproducibility of the methods was estimated by the determination of the intra-assay and inter-assay variability. Cytokine expression normalized to the expression of three reference genes (ACTB, HPRT, SDHA) was then determined using the six methods for data analysis. The best results were obtained with the relative standard curve method, comparative Ct method and with DART-PCR, LinRegPCR and Liu & Saint exponential methods when average amplification efficiency was used. The use of individual amplification efficiencies in DART-PCR, LinRegPCR and Liu & Saint exponential methods significantly impaired the results. The sigmoid curve-fitting (SCF) method produced medium performance; the results indicate that the use of appropriate type of fluorescence data and in some instances manual selection of the number of amplification cycles included in the analysis is necessary when the SCF method is applied. We also compared amplification efficiencies (E) and found that although the E values determined by different methods of analysis were not identical, all the methods were capable to identify two genes whose E values significantly differed from other genes.


Our results show that all the tested methods can provide quantitative values reflecting the amounts of measured mRNA in samples, but they differ in their accuracy and reproducibility. Selection of the appropriate method can also depend on the design of a particular experiment. The advantages and disadvantages of the methods in different applications are discussed.