mRNA-specific reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction from human tissue extracts

Anal Biochem. 2002 Aug 15;307(2):304-15. doi: 10.1016/s0003-2697(02)00058-1.


Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) has become the method of choice for detection of mRNA transcripts, including those of low abundance obtained from small precious samples of human tissue. A major confounding problem for standard reverse-transcription-priming strategies is the presence of contaminating genomic DNA (gDNA) carried over from the original "RNA" extract into the RT and PCR steps. The contaminating gDNA contains a processed pseudogene sequence-which lacks introns but contains a poly(A) tail-for commonly studied internal reference genes beta-actin and GAPDH, and target genes GSTM1, GSTP1, and others. These pseudogene sequences therefore confound standard-design "RNA-specific" PCR primer pairs which rely, for cDNA versus gDNA specificity, on the pair-spanning introns, or one of the individual primer oligos spanning an exon/exon splice site, because these features are lacking in processed pseudogene sequences. The result is false RT-PCR positives for these "housekeeper" genes in total RNA extracts; the gDNA processed pseudogene is mistaken for mRNA gene transcript. A universal RT primer has been designed that targets the poly(A) tail of mRNA and adds a unique tag sequence not otherwise existing in the human genome. Genomic DNA does not incorporate this RT-inserted unique tag. PCR is then performed using a transcript-specific forward primer and a reverse primer that is identical to the unique tag incorporated at RT. Only cDNA made with this RT primer is compatible with this reverse PCR primer, thus eliminating confounding signal from contaminating gDNA. This method performs RNA-specific qualitative and quantitative evaluation of gene expression, while preserving the sensitivity of standard RT-PCR techniques. Applications to low-copy transcripts in human samples are demonstrated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Extracts / genetics*
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes
  • Lung
  • Pseudogenes / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Templates, Genetic


  • Cell Extracts
  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Messenger
  • DNA
  • Deoxyribonucleases