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J Biomol Tech. 2004 Sep;15(3):155-66.

Pitfalls of quantitative real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction.

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Centre for Academic Surgery Institute of Cell and Molecular Science Barts, University of London, UK.


Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assays can target either DNA (the genome) or RNA (the transcriptome). Targeting the genome generates robust data that are informative and, most importantly, generally applicable. This is because the information contained within the genome is context-independent; i.e., generally, every normal cell contains the same DNA sequence--the same mutations and polymorphisms. The transcriptome, on the other hand, is context-dependent; i.e., the mRNA complement and level varies with physiology, pathology, or development. This makes the information contained within the transcriptome intrinsically flexible and variable. If this variability is combined with the technical limitations inherent in any reverse-transcription (RT)-PCR assay, it can be difficult to achieve not just a technically accurate but a biologically relevant result. Template quality, operator variability, the RT step itself, and subjectivity in data analysis and reporting are just a few technical aspects that make real-time RT-PCR appear to be a fragile assay that makes accurate data interpretation difficult. There can be little doubt that in the future, transcriptome-based analysis will become a routine technique. However, for the time being it remains a research tool, and it is important to recognize the considerable pitfalls associated with transcriptome analysis, with the successful application of RTPCR depending on careful experimental design, application, and validation.

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