Selection of reliable reference genes during THP-1 monocyte differentiation into macrophages

BMC Mol Biol. 2010 Dec 1;11:90. doi: 10.1186/1471-2199-11-90.


Background: Reliable reference genes are a vital prerequisite for any functional study employing quantitative real-time RT-PCR (RT-qPCR) for analyzing gene expression. Yet a proper selection and assessment of the chosen reference genes is only rarely included into a study. To date, no reference genes have been validated for differentiation of THP-1 monocytes. Here we report on the selection of validated reference genes during differentiation of THP-1 monocytes into macrophages induced by phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA).

Results: The mRNA expression of 21 preselected potential reference genes was measured by RT-qPCR at several time-points over six days of PMA-induced THP-1 monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation. A ranking according to expression stability was calculated. Calculations were performed using Microsoft Excel-based applets GeNorm, NormFinder and BestKeeper. Our results indicated ACTB (β-actin) (Cq ± SD, 14.1 ± 0.3) and RPL37A (ribosomal protein L37a) (14.5 ± 0.3) as the most stable genes. While other frequently used reference genes such as GAPDH (glycereraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase) (20.8 ± 0.8) or G6PD (glucose-6-phophate dehydrogenase) (16.1 ± 1.0) were found to be not as reliable and were therefore unsuited for use as reference genes. These findings were validated by investigating mRNA expression of macrophage scavenger receptor CD36, known to be regulated during monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation. Using ACTB and RPL37A as reference genes a profound and significant regulation of CD36 could be demonstrated, while use of G6PD resulted in a much less pronounced apparent regulation of CD36.

Conclusion: Consequently, it is recommended to normalize any real-time PCR-based expression data obtained during THP-1 monocyte differentiation using ACTB and RPL37A.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Line
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Gene Expression Profiling / standards*
  • Gene Expression*
  • Genes
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Monocytes / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / standards*
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate / analogs & derivatives
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate / metabolism


  • phorbolol myristate acetate
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate