A simple quenching method for fluorescence background reduction and its application to the direct, quantitative detection of specific mRNA

Anal Chem. 2003 Nov 15;75(22):6236-43. doi: 10.1021/ac034803r.


New genome sequence information is rapidly increasing the number of nucleic acid (NA) targets of use for characterizing and treating diseases. Detection of these targets by fluorescence-based assays is often limited by fluorescence background from unincorporated or unbound probes that are present in large excess over the target. To solve this problem, energy transfer-based probes have been developed and used to reduce the fluorescence from unbound probes. Although these probes have revolutionized NA target detection, their use requires scrupulous attention to design constraints, extensive probe quality control, and individually optimized experimental conditions. Here, we describe a simpler background reduction approach using singly labeled quencher oligomers to suppress excess unbound probe fluorescence following probe-target hybridization. A second limitation of most fluorescence-based NA target detection and quantification assays is the requirement for enzymatic amplification of target or signal for sensitivity. Amplification steps make quantification of original target copy number problematic because of variations in amplification efficiencies between the sequence targets and the experimental conditions. To avoid amplification, we coupled our quenching approach to a two-color NA assay with correlated, two-color, single-molecule fluorescence detection. We demonstrate a >100-fold background reduction and detection of targets present at concentrations as low as 100 fM using the two-color assay. The application of this technique to the detection and quantification of specific mRNA sequences enabled us to estimate beta-actin copy numbers in cell-derived total RNA without an amplification step.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actins / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorometry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Probe Techniques*
  • Oligonucleotide Probes / analysis*
  • Oligonucleotide Probes / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / methods*


  • Actins
  • Oligonucleotide Probes
  • RNA, Messenger