Transgene expression variability (position effect) of CAT and GUS reporter genes driven by linked divergent T-DNA promoters

Plant Mol Biol. 1991 Jul;17(1):49-60. doi: 10.1007/BF00036805.


Forty-five individually transformed clonal tobacco callus lines were simultaneously assayed for both chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) and beta-glucuronidase (GUS) activity resulting from expression of introduced reporter genes driven by the adjacent and divergent mannopine (mas) promoters. Excluding lines in which one or both of the enzyme activities was essentially zero, the activities of the reporter genes varied by as much as a factor of 136 (CAT) and 175 (GUS) between individual transformants. Superimposed upon the high degree of inter-clonal expression variability was an intra-clonal variability of 3-4-fold. The observed degree of intra-clonal reporter gene activity may be more extreme because of the regulatory characteristics of the mannopine promoters, but must still be addressed when considering the limitations of reporter gene-based analysis of transgene function and structure. There was no consistent correlation between the expression levels of the introduced CAT and GUS genes since the ratio of GUS to CAT activities (nmol min-1 mg-1) within individual lines varied from 0.05 to 49. Even divergent transcription from two directly adjacent promoter regions (both contained within a 479 bp TR-DNA fragment) is insufficient to guarantee concurrent expression of two linked transgenes. Our quantitative data were compared to published data of transgene expression variability to examine the overall distribution of expression levels in individual transformants. The resulting frequency distribution indicates that most transformants express introduced transgenes at relatively low levels, suggesting that a potentially large number of Agrobacterium-mediated transformation events may result in silent transgenes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chloramphenicol O-Acetyltransferase / genetics*
  • Clone Cells
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Glucuronidase / genetics*
  • Mannitol / analogs & derivatives
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Rhizobium / genetics
  • Tobacco / genetics*
  • Transformation, Genetic


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • T-DNA
  • Mannitol
  • mannopine
  • Chloramphenicol O-Acetyltransferase
  • Glucuronidase