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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Reverse transcription quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction reference genes in the spared nerve injury model of neuropathic pain: validation and literature search

Nicolas Piller1, Isabelle Decosterd12 and Marc R Suter1*

Author Affiliations

1 Pain Center, Department of Anesthesiology, University Hospital Center and University of Lausanne, Avenue du Bugnon 46, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

2 Department of Fundamental Neurosciences, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

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BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:266  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-266

Published: 10 July 2013



The reverse transcription quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) is a widely used, highly sensitive laboratory technique to rapidly and easily detect, identify and quantify gene expression. Reliable RT-qPCR data necessitates accurate normalization with validated control genes (reference genes) whose expression is constant in all studied conditions. This stability has to be demonstrated.

We performed a literature search for studies using quantitative or semi-quantitative PCR in the rat spared nerve injury (SNI) model of neuropathic pain to verify whether any reference genes had previously been validated. We then analyzed the stability over time of 7 commonly used reference genes in the nervous system – specifically in the spinal cord dorsal horn and the dorsal root ganglion (DRG). These were: Actin beta (Actb), Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), ribosomal proteins 18S (18S), L13a (RPL13a) and L29 (RPL29), hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase 1 (HPRT1) and hydroxymethylbilane synthase (HMBS). We compared the candidate genes and established a stability ranking using the geNorm algorithm. Finally, we assessed the number of reference genes necessary for accurate normalization in this neuropathic pain model.


We found GAPDH, HMBS, Actb, HPRT1 and 18S cited as reference genes in literature on studies using the SNI model. Only HPRT1 and 18S had been once previously demonstrated as stable in RT-qPCR arrays. All the genes tested in this study, using the geNorm algorithm, presented gene stability values (M-value) acceptable enough for them to qualify as potential reference genes in both DRG and spinal cord. Using the coefficient of variation, 18S failed the 50% cut-off with a value of 61% in the DRG. The two most stable genes in the dorsal horn were RPL29 and RPL13a; in the DRG they were HPRT1 and Actb. Using a 0.15 cut-off for pairwise variations we found that any pair of stable reference gene was sufficient for the normalization process.


In the rat SNI model, we validated and ranked Actb, RPL29, RPL13a, HMBS, GAPDH, HPRT1 and 18S as good reference genes in the spinal cord. In the DRG, 18S did not fulfill stability criteria. The combination of any two stable reference genes was sufficient to provide an accurate normalization.

Neuropathic pain; Spared nerve injury; Reference gene; RT-qPCR; Rat