Validation of Reference Genes for Expression Studies during Craniofacial Development in Arctic Charr

Ehsan Pashay Ahi, Jóhannes Gudbrandsson, Kalina H. Kapralova, Sigrídur R. Franzdóttir, Sigurdur S. Snorrason, Valerie H. Maier, Zophonías O. Jónsson

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) is a highly polymorphic species and in Lake Thingvallavatn, Iceland, four phenotypic morphs have evolved. These differences in morphology, especially in craniofacial structures are already apparent during embryonic development, indicating that genes important in the formation of the craniofacial features are expressed differentially between the morphs. In order to generate tools to examine these expression differences in Arctic charr, the aim of the present study was to identify reference genes for quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR). The specific aim was to select reference genes which are able to detect very small expression differences among different morphs. We selected twelve candidate reference genes from the literature, identified corresponding charr sequences using data derived from transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) and examined their expression using qPCR. Many of the candidate reference genes were found to be stably expressed, yet their quality-rank as reference genes varied considerably depending on the type of analysis used. In addition to commonly used software for reference gene validation, we used classical statistics to evaluate expression profiles avoiding a bias for reference genes with similar expression patterns (co-regulation). Based on these analyses we chose three reference genes, ACTB, UB2L3 and IF5A1 for further evaluation. Their consistency was assessed in an expression study of three known craniofacially expressed genes, sparc (or osteonectin), matrix metalloprotease 2 (mmp2) and sox9 (sex-determining region Y box 9 protein) using qPCR in embryo heads derived from four charr groups at three developmental time points. The three reference genes were found to be very suitable for studying expression differences between the morphotypes, enabling robust detection of small relative expression changes during charr development. Further, the results showed that sparc and mmp2 are differentially expressed in embryos of different Arctic charr morphotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere66389
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2013


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