PCR technology is based on a simple principle; an enzymatic reaction that increases the amount of nucleic acids initially present in a sample but this powerful method makes it possible to detect specific mRNA transcripts in any biological sample by the application of RT-PCR. The RT-PCR quantitative analysis workflow has several steps, each of which is crucial to the success of the experiment.
It starts with a sampling step, followed by nucleic acid extraction and stabilization, cDNA synthesis and finally the qPCR where the mRNA quantification takes place. PCR itself is quite a stable reaction with reproducibility between 2-8% but the number and nature of the pre-PCR steps mean that there are many sources of experimental variance in the workflow.
Reliable data can only be produced when the experimental variance is minimized, so the sources of variation must be identified and optimized for each step of each experiment. Typically, however, the pre-PCR steps are neglected and optimization is done for PCR reaction only. In this chapter the optimization of the whole RT-PCR workflow will be discussed and recommendations to reduce experimental variance and produce more reproducible and reliable results are put forward.