RNA transcripts circulating in peripheral blood represent an important source of non-invasive biomarkers. To accurately quantify the levels of circulating transcripts, one needs to normalize the data with internal control reference genes, which are detected at relatively constant levels across blood samples. A few reference gene candidates have to be selected from transcriptome data before the validation of their stable expression by reverse-transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction. However, there is a lack of transcriptome, let alone whole-transcriptome, data from maternal blood.
To overcome this shortfall, researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong performed RNA-sequencing on blood samples from women presenting with preterm labor. The coefficient of variation (CV) of expression levels was calculated. Of 11,215 exons detected in the maternal blood whole-transcriptome, a panel of 395 genes, including PPP1R15B, EXOC8, ACTB, and TPT1, were identified to comprise exons with considerably less variable expression level (CV, 7.75-17.7%) than any GAPDH exon (minimum CV, 27.3%). Upon validation, the selected genes from this panel remained more stably expressed than GAPDH in maternal blood. This panel is over-represented with genes involved with the actin cytoskeleton, macromolecular complex, and integrin signaling. This groundwork provides a starting point for systematically selecting reference gene candidates for normalizing the levels of circulating RNA transcripts in maternal blood.