Q: 為何做了 cDNA microarray, 還要做real-time PCR?

(整理自維基 by陳怡睿)


DNA microarray

A DNA microarray is a multiplex technology used in molecular biology and in medicine. It consists of an arrayed series of thousands of microscopic spots of DNA oligonucleotides, called features, each containing picomoles of a specific DNA sequence. This can be a short section of a gene or other DNA element that are used as probes to hybridize a cDNA or cRNA sample (called target) under high-stringency conditions. Probe-target hybridization is usually detected and quantified by fluorescence-based detection of fluorophore-labeled targets to determine relative abundance of nucleic acid sequences in the target.

In standard microarrays, the probes are attached to a solid surface by a covalent bond to a chemical matrix. The solid surface can be glass or a silicon chip, in which case they are commonly known as gene chip or colloquially Affy chip when an Affymetrix chip is used. Other microarray platforms, such as Illumina, use microscopic beads, instead of the large solid support. DNA arrays are different from other types of microarray only in that they either measure DNA or use DNA as part of its detection system.

DNA microarrays can be used to measure changes in expression levels, to detect single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), in genotyping or in resquencing mutant genomes. Microarrays also differ in fabrication, workings, accuracy, efficiency, and cost. Additional factors for microarray experiments are the experimental design and the methods of analyzing the data.

Uses and types

Arrays of DNA can be spatially arranged, as in the commonly known gene chip (also called genome chip, DNA chip or gene array), or can be specific DNA sequences labelled such that they can be independently identified in solution. The traditional solid-phase array is a collection of microscopic DNA spots attached to a solid surface, such as glass, plastic or silicon biochip. The affixed DNA segments are known as probes (although some sources use different terms such as reporters). Thousands of them can be placed in known locations on a single DNA microarray.

DNA microarrays can be used to detect DNA (as in comparative genomic hybridization), or detect RNA (most commonly as cDNA after reverse transcription) that may or may not be translated into proteins. The process of measuring gene expression via cDNA is called expression analysis or expression profiling.

Since an array can contain tens of thousands of probes, a microarray experiment can accomplish that many genetic tests in parallel. Therefore arrays have dramatically accelerated many types of investigation.


Microarrays can be manufactured in different ways, depending on the number of probes under examination, costs, customization requirements, and the type of scientific question being asked. Arrays may have as few as 10 probes to up to 2.1 million (NimbleGen, Roche) micrometre-scale probes from commercial vendors.

Surface engineering

The first step of DNA microarray fabrication involves surface engineering of a substrate in order to obtain desirable surface properties for the application of interest. Optimal surface properties are those which produce high signal to noise ratios for the DNA targets of interest.

Spotted vs. oligonucleotide arrays

Microarrays can be fabricated using a variety of technologies, including printing with fine-pointed pins onto glass slides, photolithography using pre-made masks, photolithography using dynamic micromirror devices, ink-jet printing, or electrochemistry on microelectrode arrays.

In spotted microarrays, the probes are oligonucleotides, cDNA or small fragments of PCR products that correspond to mRNAs. The probes are synthesized prior to deposition on the array surface and are then "spotted" onto glass. A common approach utilizes an array of fine pins or needles controlled by a robotic arm that is dipped into wells containing DNA probes and then depositing each probe at designated locations on the array surface. The resulting "grid" of probes represents the nucleic acid profiles of the prepared probes and is ready to receive complementary cDNA or cRNA "targets" derived from experimental or clinical samples. This technique is used by research scientists around the world to produce "in-house" printed microarrays from their own labs. These arrays may be easily customized for each experiment, because researchers can choose the probes and printing locations on the arrays, synthesize the probes in their own lab (or collaborating facility), and spot the arrays. They can then generate their own labeled samples for hybridization, hybridize the samples to the array, and finally scan the arrays with their own equipment. This provides a relatively low-cost microarray that may be customized for each study, and avoids the costs of purchasing often more expensive commercial arrays that may represent vast numbers of genes that are not of interest to the investigator. Publications exist which indicate in-house spotted microarrays may not provide the same level of sensitivity compared to commercial oligonucleotide arrays, possibly owing to the small batch sizes and reduced printing efficiencies when compared to industrial manufactures of oligo arrays.

In oligonucleotide microarrays, the probes are short sequences designed to match parts of the sequence of known or predicted open reading frames. Although oligonucleotide probes are often used in "spotted" microarrays, the term "oligonucleotide array" most often refers to a specific technique of manufacturing. Oligonucleotide arrays are produced by printing short oligonucleotide sequences designed to represent a single gene or family of gene splice-variants by synthesizing this sequence directly onto the array surface instead of depositing intact sequences. Sequences may be longer (60-mer probes such as the Agilent design) or shorter (25-mer probes produced by Affymetrix) depending on the desired purpose; longer probes are more specific to individual target genes, shorter probes may be spotted in higher density across the array and are cheaper to manufacture. One technique used to produce oligonucleotide arrays include photolithographic synthesis (Agilent and Affymetrix) on a silica substrate where light and light-sensitive masking agents are used to "build" a sequence one nucleotide at a time across the entire array. Each applicable probe is selectively "unmasked" prior to bathing the array in a solution of a single nucleotide, then a masking reaction takes place and the next set of probes are unmasked in preparation for a different nucleotide exposure. After many repetitions, the sequences of every probe become fully constructed. More recently, Maskless Array Synthesis from NimbleGen Systems has combined flexibility with large numbers of probes.

Two-channel vs. one-channel detection

Two-color microarrays or two-channel microarrays are typically hybridized with cDNA prepared from two samples to be compared (e.g. diseased tissue versus healthy tissue) and that are labeled with two different fluorophores. Fluorescent dyes commonly used for cDNA labelling include Cy3, which has a fluorescence emission wavelength of 570 nm (corresponding to the green part of the light spectrum), and Cy5 with a fluorescence emission wavelength of 670 nm (corresponding to the red part of the light spectrum). The two Cy-labelled cDNA samples are mixed and hybridized to a single microarray that is then scanned in a microarray scanner to visualize fluorescence of the two fluorophores after excitation with a laser beam of a defined wavelength. Relative intensities of each fluorophore may then be used in ratio-based analysis to identify up-regulated and down-regulated genes.

Oligonucleotide microarrays often contain control probes designed to hybridize with RNA spike-ins. The degree of hybridization between the spike-ins and the control probes is used to normalize the hybridization measurements for the target probes. Although absolute levels of gene expression may be determined in the two-color array, the relative differences in expression among different spots within a sample and between samples is the preferred method of data analysis for the two-color system. Examples of providers for such microarrays includes Agilent with their Dual-Mode platform, Eppendorf with their DualChip platform for fluorescence labeling, and TeleChem International with Arrayit.

In single-channel microarrays or one-color microarrays, the arrays are designed to give estimations of the absolute levels of gene expression. Therefore the comparison of two conditions requires two separate single-dye hybridizations. As only a single dye is used, the data collected represent absolute values of gene expression. These may be compared to other genes within a sample or to reference "normalizing" probes used to calibrate data across the entire array and across multiple arrays. Three popular single-channel systems are the Affymetrix "Gene Chip", the Applied Microarrays "CodeLink" arrays, and the Eppendorf "DualChip & Silverquant". One strength of the single-dye system lies in the fact that an aberrant sample cannot affect the raw data derived from other samples, because each array chip is exposed to only one sample (as opposed to a two-color system in which a single low-quality sample may drastically impinge on overall data precision even if the other sample was of high quality). Another benefit is that data are more easily compared to arrays from different experiments; the absolute values of gene expression may be compared between studies conducted months or years apart. A drawback to the one-color system is that, when compared to the two-color system, twice as many microarrays are needed to compare samples within an experiment.

Microarrays and bioinformatics

Experimental design

Due to the biological complexity of gene expression, the considerations of experimental design that are discussed in the expression profiling article are of critical importance if statistically and biologically valid conclusions are to be drawn from the data.

There are three main elements to consider when designing a microarray experiment. First, replication of the biological samples is essential for drawing conclusions from the experiment. Second, technical replicates (two RNA samples obtained from each experimental unit) help to ensure precision and allow for testing differences within treatment groups. The technical replicates may be two independent RNA extractions or two aliquots of the same extraction. Third, spots of each cDNA clone or oligonucleotide are present as replicates (at least duplicates) on the microarray slide, to provide a measure of technical precision in each hybridization. It is critical that information about the sample preparation and handling is discussed, in order to help identify the independent units in the experiment and to avoid inflated estimates of statistical significance.


Microarray data is difficult to exchange due to the lack of standardization in platform fabrication, assay protocols, and analysis methods. This presents an interoperability problem in bioinformatics. Various grass-roots open-source projects are trying to ease the exchange and analysis of data produced with non-proprietary chips.

Statistical analysis

The analysis of DNA microarrays poses a large number of statistical problems, including the normalization of the data. There are several normalization methods in the published literature some of which are platform specific;[citation needed] as in many other cases where authorities disagree, a sound conservative approach is to directly compare different normalization methods to determine the effects of these different methods on the results obtained. This can be done, for example, by investigating the performance of various methods on data from "spike-in" experiments.

Also, experimenters must account for multiple comparisons: even if the statistical P-value assigned to a gene indicates that it is extremely unlikely that differential expression of this gene was due to random rather than treatment effects, the very high number of genes on an array makes it likely that differential expression of some genes represent false positives or false negatives. Statistical methods tailored to microarray analyses have recently become available that assess statistical power based on the variation present in the data and the number of experimental replicates, and can help minimize type I and type II errors in the analyses.

A basic difference between microarray data analysis and much traditional biomedical research is the dimensionality of the data. A large clinical study might collect 100 data items per patient for thousands of patients. A medium-size microarray study will obtain many thousands of numbers per sample for perhaps a hundred samples. Many analysis techniques treat each sample as a single point in a space with thousands of dimensions, then attempt by various techniques to reduce the dimensionality of the data to something humans can visualize.

Relation between probe and gene

The relation between a probe and the mRNA that it is expected to detect is problematic. On the one hand, some mRNAs may cross-hybridize probes in the array that are supposed to detect another mRNA. On the other hand, probes that are designed to detect the mRNA of a particular gene may be relying on genomic EST information that is incorrectly associated with that gene.

Data warehousing

Microarray data was found to be more useful when compared to other similar datasets. The sheer volume (in bytes), specialized formats (such as MIAME), and curation efforts associated with the datasets require specialized databases to store the data.

Real-time polymerase chain reaction

In molecular biology, real-time polymerase chain reaction is a laboratory technique based on the polymerase chain reaction, which is used to amplify and simultaneously quantify a targeted DNA molecule. It enables both detection and quantification of a specific sequence in a DNA sample.

The procedure follows the general principle of polymerase chain reaction; its key feature is that the amplified DNA is quantified as it accumulates in the reaction in real time after each amplification cycle. Two common methods of quantification are the use of fluorescent dyes that intercalate with double-stranded DNA, and modified DNA oligonucleotide probes that fluoresce when hybridized with a complementary DNA.

Frequently, real-time polymerase chain reaction is combined with reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction to quantify low abundance messenger RNA (mRNA), enabling a researcher to quantify relative gene expression at a particular time, or in a particular cell or tissue type.


Cells in all organisms regulate gene expression and turnover of gene transcripts (messenger RNA, abbreviated to mRNA), and the number of copies of an mRNA transcript of a gene in a cell or tissue is determined by the rates of its expression and degradation.

Northern blotting is often used to estimate the expression level of a gene by visualizing the abundance of its mRNA transcript in a sample. In this method, purified RNA is separated by agarose gel electrophoresis, transferred to a solid matrix (such as a nylon membrane), and probed with a specific DNA probe that is complementary to the gene of interest. Although this technique is still used to assess gene expression, it requires relatively large amounts of RNA and provides only qualitative or semiquantitative information of mRNA levels.

In order to robustly detect and quantify gene expression from small amounts of RNA, amplification of the gene transcript is necessary. The polymerase chain reaction is a common method for amplifying DNA; for mRNA-based PCR the RNA sample is first reverse transcribed to cDNA with reverse transcriptase.

Development of PCR technologies based on reverse transcription and fluorophores permits measurement of DNA amplification during PCR in real time, i.e., the amplified product is measured at each PCR cycle. The data thus generated can be analysed by computer software to calculate relative gene expression in several samples, or mRNA copy number. Real-time PCR can also be applied to the detection and quantification of DNA in samples to determine the presence and abundance of a particular DNA sequence in these samples.

Real-time PCR using double-stranded DNA dyes

A DNA-binding dye binds to all double-stranded (ds)DNA in PCR, causing fluorescence of the dye. An increase in DNA product during PCR therefore leads to an increase in fluorescence intensity and is measured at each cycle, thus allowing DNA concentrations to be quantified. However, dsDNA dyes such as SYBR Green will bind to all dsDNA PCR products, including nonspecific PCR products (such as "primer dimers"). This can potentially interfere with or prevent accurate quantification of the intended target sequence.

1. The reaction is prepared as usual, with the addition of fluorescent dsDNA dye.
2. The reaction is run in a thermocycler, and after each cycle, the levels of fluorescence are measured with a detector; the dye only fluoresces when bound to the dsDNA (i.e., the PCR product). With reference to a standard dilution, the dsDNA concentration in the PCR can be determined.

Like other real-time PCR methods, the values obtained do not have absolute units associated with it (i.e. mRNA copies/cell). As described above, a comparison of a measured DNA/RNA sample to a standard dilution will only give a fraction or ratio of the sample relative to the standard, allowing only relative comparisons between different tissues or experimental conditions. To ensure accuracy in the quantification, it is usually necessary to normalize expression of a target gene to a stably expressed gene (see below). This can correct possible differences in RNA quantity or quality across experimental samples.

Fluorescent reporter probe method

Using fluorescent reporter probes is the most accurate and most reliable of the methods, but also the most expensive. It uses a sequence-specific RNA or DNA-based probe to quantify only the DNA containing the probe sequence; therefore, use of the reporter probe significantly increases specificity, and allows quantification even in the presence of some non-specific DNA amplification. This potentially allows for multiplexing - assaying for several genes in the same reaction by using specific probes with different-coloured labels, provided that all genes are amplified with similar efficiency.

It is commonly carried out with an RNA-based probe with a fluorescent reporter at one end and a quencher of fluorescence at the opposite end of the probe. The close proximity of the reporter to the quencher prevents detection of its fluorescence; breakdown of the probe by the 5' to 3' exonuclease activity of the taq polymerase breaks the reporter-quencher proximity and thus allows unquenched emission of fluorescence, which can be detected. An increase in the product targeted by the reporter probe at each PCR cycle therefore causes a proportional increase in fluorescence due to the breakdown of the probe and release of the reporter.

1. The PCR is prepared as usual (see PCR), and the reporter probe is added.
2. As the reaction commences, during the annealing stage of the PCR both probe and primers anneal to the DNA target.
3. Polymerisation of a new DNA strand is initiated from the primers, and once the polymerase reaches the probe, its 5'-3-exonuclease degrades the probe, physically separating the fluorescent reporter from the quencher, resulting in an increase in fluorescence.
4. Fluorescence is detected and measured in the real-time PCR thermocycler, and its geometric increase corresponding to exponential increase of the product is used to determine the threshold cycle (CT) in each reaction.


Quantifying gene expression by traditional methods presents several problems. Firstly, detection of mRNA on a Northern blot or PCR products on a gel or Southern blot is time-consuming and does not allow precise quantification. Also, over the 20-40 cycles of a typical PCR, the amount of product reaches a plateau determined more by the amount of primers in the reaction mix than by the input template/sample.

Relative concentrations of DNA present during the exponential phase of the reaction are determined by plotting fluorescence against cycle number on a logarithmic scale (so an exponentially increasing quantity will give a straight line). A threshold for detection of fluorescence above background is determined. The cycle at which the fluorescence from a sample crosses the threshold is called the cycle threshold, Ct. Since the quantity of DNA doubles every cycle during the exponential phase, relative amounts of DNA can be calculated, e.g. a sample whose Ct is 3 cycles earlier than another's has 23 = 8 times more template.

Amounts of RNA or DNA are then determined by comparing the results to a standard curve produced by real-time PCR of serial dilutions (e.g. undiluted, 1:4, 1:16, 1:64) of a known amount of RNA or DNA. As mentioned above, to accurately quantify gene expression, the measured amount of RNA from the gene of interest is divided by the amount of RNA from a housekeeping gene measured in the same sample to normalize for possible variation in the amount and quality of RNA between different samples. This normalization permits accurate comparison of expression of the gene of interest between different samples, provided that the expression of the reference (housekeeping) gene used in the normalization is very similar across all the samples. Choosing a reference gene fulfilling this criterion is therefore of high importance, and often challenging, because only very few genes show equal levels of expression across a range of different conditions or tissues.


Diagnostically real-time PCR is applied to rapidly detect the presence of genes involved in infectious diseases, cancer and genetic abnormalities. The introduction of real-time PCR assays to the clinical microbiology laboratory has led to significant improvements in the diagnosis of infectious disease. In the research setting, real-time PCR is mainly used to provide highly sensitive quantitative measurements of gene transcription.

The technology may be used in determining how the genetic expression of a particular gene changes over time, such as in the response of tissue and cell cultures to an administration of a pharmacological agent, progression of cell differentiation, or in response to changes in environmental conditions.

Also, the technique is used in environmental microbiology, for example to quantify resistance genes in water samples.

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