Development and utility of an internal threshold control (ITC) real-time PCR assay for exogenous DNA detection

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36461. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036461. Epub 2012 May 3.


Sensitive and specific tests for detecting exogenous DNA molecules are useful for infectious disease diagnosis, gene therapy clinical trial safety, and gene doping surveillance. Taqman real-time PCR using specific sequence probes provides an effective approach to accurately and quantitatively detect exogenous DNA. However, one of the major challenges in these analyses is to eliminate false positive signals caused by either non-targeted exogenous or endogenous DNA sequences, or false negative signals caused by impurities that inhibit PCR. Although multiplex Taqman PCR assays have been applied to address these problems by adding extra primer-probe sets targeted to endogenous DNA sequences, the differences between targets can lead to different detection efficiencies. To avoid these complications, a Taqman PCR-based approach that incorporates an internal threshold control (ITC) has been developed. In this single reaction format, the target sequence and ITC template are co-amplified by the same primers, but are detected by different probes each with a unique fluorescent dye. Sample DNA, a prescribed number of ITC template molecules set near the limit of sensitivity, a single pair of primers, target probe and ITC probe are added to one reaction. Fluorescence emission signals are obtained simultaneously to determine the cycle thresholds (Ct) for amplification of the target and ITC sequences. The comparison of the target Ct with the ITC Ct indicates if a sample is a true positive for the target (i.e. Ct less than or equal to the ITC Ct) or negative (i.e. Ct greater than the ITC Ct). The utility of this approach was demonstrated in a nonhuman primate model of rAAV vector mediated gene doping in vivo and in human genomic DNA spiked with plasmid DNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA / analysis*
  • Genetic Vectors
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Transduction, Genetic


  • DNA