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Cold Spring Harb Protoc. 2010 May;2010(5):pdb.prot5423. doi: 10.1101/pdb.prot5423.

Beta-galactosidase assay.


When a transient or stable transfection assay is developed for a promoter, a primary objective is to quantify promoter strength. Because transfection efficiency in such assays can be low, promoters are commonly fused to heterologous reporter genes that encode enzymes that can be quantified using highly sensitive assays. The reporter protein's activity or fluorescence within a transfected cell population is approximately proportional to the steady-state mRNA level. Although the Escherichia coli lacZ gene, encoding beta-galactosidase (beta-gal), can be used as a standard reporter for monitoring the strength of a promoter or enhancer in a transient or stable transfection assay, it is predominantly used as an internal control during transient transfection experiments. When used in this manner, cells are usually transfected with the control plasmid (containing a ubiquitously active viral promoter fused to the E. coli lacZ gene) and an experimental plasmid containing another reporter gene (e.g., luciferase or chloramphenicol acetyltransferase [CAT]) under the control of the promoter or enhancer of interest. The basic colorimetric assay described here is the simplest and least expensive assay for quantifying beta-gal activity. The cells are lysed and, after determining the total protein concentration in the extracts, an aliquot of the extract is mixed with the reaction substrate, O-nitrophenyl-beta-D-galactopyranoside (ONPG), in a buffer containing sodium phosphate and magnesium chloride. When the yellow product becomes visible, the optical densities of the samples are determined spectrophotometrically.

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