Identification of qRT-PCR reference genes for analysis of opioid gene expression in a hibernator

J Comp Physiol B. 2010 Apr;180(4):619-29. doi: 10.1007/s00360-009-0430-9. Epub 2009 Dec 23.


Previous work has suggested that central and peripheral opioid signaling are involved in regulating torpor behavior and tissue protection associated with the hibernation phenotype. We used quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) to measure mRNA levels of opioid peptide precursors and receptors in the brain and heart of summer ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) and winter hibernating squirrels in the torpid or interbout arousal states. The use of appropriate reference genes for normalization of qRT-PCR gene expression data can have profound effects on the analysis and interpretation of results. This may be particularly important when experimental subjects, such as hibernating animals, undergo significant morphological and/or functional changes during the study. Therefore, an additional goal of this study was to identify stable reference genes for use in qRT-PCR studies of the 13-lined ground squirrel. Expression levels of 10 potential reference genes were measured in the small intestine, liver, brain, and heart, and the optimal combinations of the most stable reference genes were identified by the GeNorm Excel applet. Based on this analysis, we provide recommendations for reference genes to use in each tissue that would be suitable for comparative studies among different activity states. When appropriate normalization of mRNA levels was used, there were no changes in opioid-related genes in heart among the three activity states; in brain, DOR expression was highest during torpor, lowest in interbout arousal and intermediate in summer. The results support the idea that changes in DOR expression may regulate the level of neuronal activity in brain during the annual hibernation cycle and may contribute to hibernation-associated tissue protection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Opioid Peptides / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Reference Values
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sciuridae / metabolism
  • Sciuridae / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Wisconsin


  • DNA Primers
  • Opioid Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger