Relative quantification of gene expression by real-time PCR relies on the use of reference genes whose expressed levels remain consistent across experimental conditions. Here we compare expression levels of commonly employed endogenous housekeeping genes against a developmental regulatory gene in the model tapeworm Hymenolepis microstoma, examining variation both spatially across regions of the adult worm and temporally through the course of larval metamorphosis. β-Tubulin, RNA polymerase II and 60S ribosomal subunit L28 showed the most variance among candidate reference genes when comparing changes in expression along the anteroposterior gradient of development represented by the adult body, whereas expression of 18S rDNA and cyclic AMP were highly consistent and could be used reliably for relative quantification. The transcription factor Hox4, referenced to either 18S or cAMP, showed 3-fold higher expression levels in the neck region than in more mature regions of the strobila. In contrast, variance among samples representing progressive stages of larval metamorphosis were greater for candidate reference genes than for Hox4, indicating that none of the candidates can be used reliably for quantifying relative changes in gene expression during metamorphosis.
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