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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e46451. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046451. Epub 2012 Sep 28.

Validation of reference genes for gene expression studies in virus-infected Nicotiana benthamiana using quantitative real-time PCR.

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State Key Laboratory of Agro-Biotechnology, College of Biological Sciences, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China.


Nicotiana benthamiana is the most widely-used experimental host in plant virology. The recent release of the draft genome sequence for N. benthamiana consolidates its role as a model for plant-pathogen interactions. Quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) is commonly employed for quantitative gene expression analysis. For valid qPCR analysis, accurate normalisation of gene expression against an appropriate internal control is required. Yet there has been little systematic investigation of reference gene stability in N. benthamiana under conditions of viral infections. In this study, the expression profiles of 16 commonly used housekeeping genes (GAPDH, 18S, EF1α, SAMD, L23, UK, PP2A, APR, UBI3, SAND, ACT, TUB, GBP, F-BOX, PPR and TIP41) were determined in N. benthamiana and those with acceptable expression levels were further selected for transcript stability analysis by qPCR of complementary DNA prepared from N. benthamiana leaf tissue infected with one of five RNA plant viruses (Tobacco necrosis virus A, Beet black scorch virus, Beet necrotic yellow vein virus, Barley stripe mosaic virus and Potato virus X). Gene stability was analysed in parallel by three commonly-used dedicated algorithms: geNorm, NormFinder and BestKeeper. Statistical analysis revealed that the PP2A, F-BOX and L23 genes were the most stable overall, and that the combination of these three genes was sufficient for accurate normalisation. In addition, the suitability of PP2A, F-BOX and L23 as reference genes was illustrated by expression-level analysis of AGO2 and RdR6 in virus-infected N. benthamiana leaves. This is the first study to systematically examine and evaluate the stability of different reference genes in N. benthamiana. Our results not only provide researchers studying these viruses a shortlist of potential housekeeping genes to use as normalisers for qPCR experiments, but should also guide the selection of appropriate reference genes for gene expression studies of N. benthamiana under other biotic and abiotic stress conditions.

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