Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction

Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is one of many variants of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), in which the technique is commonly used in molecular biology to detect RNA expression levels. RT-PCR is often interchanged with real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) by students and scientists alike. However, they are separate and distinct techniques. While RT-PCR is used to qualitatively detect gene expression through creation of complementary DNA transcripts from RNA, qPCR is used to quantitatively measure the amplification of DNA using fluorescent probes. qPCR is also referred to as quantitative PCR, quantitative real-time PCR, and real-time quantitative PCR.

Although RT-PCR and the traditional PCR both produce multiple copies of particular DNA isolates through amplification, the applications of the two techniques are fundamentally different. The traditional PCR is simply used to make billions of copies of given DNA sequences. RT-PCR is used to clone expressed genes by reverse transcribing the RNA of interest into its DNA complement through the use of reverse transcriptase. Subsequently, the newly synthesized cDNA is amplified using traditional PCR.

In addition to qualitative study of gene expression, RT-PCR can be utilized for quantification of RNA, in both relative and absolute terms, by incorporating qPCR into the technique. The combined technique, described as quantitative RT-PCR or real-time RT-PCR (sometimes even quantitative real-time RT-PCR), is often abbreviated as qRT-PCR, RT-qPCR, or RRT-PCR. Compared to other RNA quantification methods, such as northern blot, qRT-PCR is considered to be the most powerful, sensitive, and quantitative assay for the detection of RNA levels. It is frequently used in the expression analysis of single or multiple genes, and expression patterns for identifying infections and diseases.

In order to avoid confusion, the following abbreviations will be used consistently throughout this article:

Technique Abbreviation
Polymerase chain reaction PCR
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction RT-PCR
Real-time polymerase chain reaction qPCR
RT-PCR / qPCR combined technique qRT-PCR

Read more about Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction:  History, Principles, Uses

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