Quantitative RT-PCR is often used as a research tool directed at gene transcription. Selection of optimal housekeeping genes (HKGs) as reference genes is critical to establishing sensitive and reproducible qRT-PCR-based assays. The current study was designed to identify the appropriate reference genes in blood leukocytes of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) for gene transcription research. Seventy-five blood samples collected from 7 bottlenose dolphins were used to analyze 15 candidate HKGs (ACTB, B2M, GAPDH, HPRT1, LDHB, PGK1, RPL4, RPL8, RPL18, RPS9, RPS18, TFRC, YWHAZ, LDHA, SDHA). HKG stability in qRT-PCR was determined using geNorm, NormFinder, BestKeeper and comparative delta Ct algorithms. Utilization of RefFinder, which combined all 4 algorithms, suggested that PGK1, HPRT1 and RPL4 were the most stable HKGs in bottlenose dolphin blood. Gene transcription perturbations in blood can serve as an indication of health status in cetaceans as it occurs prior to alterations in hematology and chemistry. This study identified HKGs that could be used in gene transcript studies, which may contribute to further mRNA relative quantification research in the peripheral blood leukocytes in captive cetaceans.
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