Pseudogenes as weaknesses of ACTB (Actb) and GAPDH (Gapdh) used as reference genes in reverse transcription and polymerase chain reactions

Yuan Sun, Yan Li, Dianzhong Luo, D. Joshua Liao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The genes encoding β-actin (ACTB in human or Actb in mouse) and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH in human or Gapdh in mouse) are the two most commonly used references for sample normalization in determination of the mRNA level of interested genes by reverse transcription (RT) and ensuing polymerase chain reactions (PCR). In this study, bioinformatic analyses revealed that the ACTB, Actb, GAPDH and Gapdh had 64, 69, 67 and 197 pseudogenes (PGs), respectively, in the corresponding genome. Most of these PGs are intronless and similar in size to the authentic mRNA. Alignment of several PGs of these genes with the corresponding mRNA reveals that they are highly homologous. In contrast, the hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase-1 gene (HPRT1 in human or Hprt in mouse) only had 3 or 1 PG, respectively, and the mRNA has unique regions for primer design. PCR with cDNA or genomic DNA (gDNA) as templates revealed that our HPRT1, Hprt and GAPDH primers were specific, whereas our ACTB and Actb primers were not specific enough both vertically (within the cDNA) and horizontally (compared cDNA with gDNA). No primers could be designed for the Gapdh that would not mis-prime PGs. Since most of the genome is transcribed, we suggest to peers to forgo ACTB (Actb) and GAPDH (Dapdh) as references in RT-PCR and, if there is no surrogate, to use our primers with extra caution. We also propose a standard operation procedure in which design of primers for RT-PCR starts from avoiding mis-priming PGs and all primers need be tested for specificity with both cDNA and gDNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere41659
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 22 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'Pseudogenes as weaknesses of ACTB (Actb) and GAPDH (Gapdh) used as reference genes in reverse transcription and polymerase chain reactions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this