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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2007 Feb;26(2):287-96.

Quantification and associated variability of induced vitellogenin gene transcripts in fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction assay.

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  • 1U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.


Ecological risk assessors have a growing need for sensitive and rapid indicators of environmental exposures in aquatic ecosystems resulting from natural and synthetic estrogen-like compounds. Investigators developing subcellular exposure markers in traditional sentinel organisms must be vigilant about inherent variability of analyses, especially regarding regulatory and policy statements. Here, we report a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) assay for the detection of vitellogenin transcripts environmentally triggered in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). We demonstrate that our QPCR assay exhibits little inter- or intra-assay variability (21.7 and 11.9%, respectively). This method appears to be robust in terms of variability stemming from extrinsic sources, indicating that it may be readily transferable to laboratories having the requisite equipment. Our primary focus in development of this method derived from the observation that transcriptional responses of the vitellogenin gene (vtg) in fathead minnows demonstrated high biological variability between identically treated individuals, even under controlled laboratory conditions (coefficient of variation, > 100%). This variability was not seen in other genes from the same RNA preparations that we examined, suggesting that it is specific to the vitellogenin response. Our data and those of others suggest that variability in vtg expression is common to a number of aquatic vertebrates, which is indicative of genetic causation. Despite a relatively high degree of variability in vtg transcription, this method is sensitive enough to detect exposures of 5.0 ng 17alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2)/L within 24 h of exposure, and it has the ability to discriminate 10.0 and 5.0 ng EE2/L within 48 h. The vitellogenin QPCR assay is a highly sensitive, comparatively rapid, and inexpensive method for the detection and characterization of exposure to environmental estrogens and estrogen mimics.

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