Background: Real time RT-PCR has become an important tool for analyzing gene expression in fish. Although several housekeeping genes have been evaluated in Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus Hippoglossus L.), appropriate reference genes for low copy mRNA transcripts at the earliest developmental stages have not been identified. No attempts have been reported to identify suitable reference genes in halibut infected with NNV or in stimulated halibut leucocytes. In this study, beta-actin1 (ACTB1), elongation factor 1 alpha (EF1A1), hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase 1 (HPRT1), ribosomal protein L7 (RPL7), tubulin beta 2C (Tubb2C), and ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (UbcE) were evaluated as reference genes for normalization of real time RT-PCR data during Atlantic halibut development, in tissue of healthy and NNV-infected fish, and in in vivo and in vitro stimulated anterior kidney leucocytes.
Results: The expression of all six genes was relatively stable from the unfertilized egg until 12 day degrees post fertilization (ddpf). However, none of the selected genes were found to be stably expressed throughout halibut development. The mRNA levels of the six genes increased from 18 ddpf, when zygotic transcription is likely to be activated, and stabilized at different time points. The Excel-based software programs BestKeeper, geNorm, and NormFinder ranked EF1A1 and UbcE as the best candidate reference genes before activation of zygotic transcription, and RPL7 and EF1A1 as the best candidates after hatching. EF1A1 and RPL7 were also listed as the best reference genes when exploring the expression levels of the six genes in various halibut organs, both in non-injected fish and in mock- and NNV-injected fish. None of the reference genes were found optimal for normalization of real time RT-PCR data from in vitro stimulated anterior kidney leucocytes.
Conclusion: Generally, it was found that EF1A1 and RPL7 were the genes that showed least variation, with HPRT1 and UbcE as intermediate genes, and ACTB1 and Tubb2C as the least stable ones. None of the six reference genes can be recommended as reference gene candidates in ConA-PMA stimulated leucocytes. However, UbcE can be a good candidate in other experimental setups. This study emphasizes the need for reference gene evaluation, as universal reference genes have not been identified.