In Vitro Transcription and the Use of Modified Nucleotides

In vitro transcription
RNA polymerase unwinds DNA strands for transcription.

Transcription is the production of RNA from a DNA sequence. It’s a necessary life process in most cells. Transcription performed in vitro is also a valuable technique for research applications—from gene expression studies to the development of RNA virus vaccines.

During transcription, the DNA sequence is read by RNA polymerase to produce a complimentary, antiparallel RNA strand. This RNA strand is called a primary transcript, often referred to as an RNA transcript. In vitro transcription is a convenient method for generating RNA in a controlled environment outside of a cell.

In vitro transcription offers flexibility when choosing a DNA template, with a few requirements. The template must be purified, linear, and include a double stranded promoter region. Acceptable template types are plasmids or cloning vectors, PCR products, synthetic oligos (oligonucleotides), and cDNA (complimentary DNA). 

In vitro transcription is used for production of large amounts of RNA transcripts for use in many applications including gene expression studies, RNA interference studies (RNAi), generation of guide RNA (gRNA) for use in CRISPR, creation of RNA standards for quantification of results in reverse-transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), studies of RNA structure and function, labeling of RNA probes for blotting and hybridization or for RNA:protein interaction studies, and preparation of specific cDNA libraries, just to name a few!

In vitro transcription can also be applied in general virology to study the effects of an RNA virus on a cell or an organism, and in development and production of RNA therapeutics and RNA virus vaccines. The large quantity of viral RNA produced through in vitro transcription can be used as inoculation material for viral infection studies. Viral mRNA transcripts, typically coding for a disease-specific antigen, can be quickly created through in vitro transcription, and used in the production of vaccines and therapeutics.

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Rabbit Reticulocyte Lysate Translation Systems: Tools for the analysis of translational regulation

TEM of Norovirus particles. Photo Credit: Charles D. Humphrey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
TEM of Norovirus particles. Photo Credit: Charles D. Humphrey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Rabbit Reticulocyte Lysate Translation Systems are used in the identification of mRNA species, the characterization of their protein products and the investigation of transcriptional and translational control. Rabbit Reticulocyte Lysate is prepared from New Zealand white rabbits. After the reticulocytes are lysed, the extract is treated with micrococcal nuclease to destroy endogenous mRNA and thus reduce background translation to a minimum.

Untreated Lysate is prepared from New Zealand white rabbits in the same manner as treated lysates with the exception that it is not treated with micrococcal nuclease. Unlike a coupled system that initiates transcription/translation from DNA, the RNA-based rabbit reticulocyte can be used for the direct investigation of transcriptional/translational control and the replication of RNA-based viruses.


Characterization of translation regulation (i.e., UTRs, Capping, IRES)

  1. Nguyen, H-L .et al. (2013) Expression of a novel mRNA transcript for human microsomal epoxide hydrolase is regulated by short reading frames within it 5’ –untranslated region. RNA. 19, 752–66.
  2. Wei, J. et al. (2013) The stringency of start codon selection in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crass. J. Biol. Chem. 288, 9549–62.
  3. Paek Ki-Y. et al. (2012) Cap-Dependent translation without base-by-base scanning of an messenger ribonucleic acid. Nucl. Acid. Res. 40, 7541–51.
  4. Se, and NH. Su.W. et al. (2011) Translation, stability, and resistance to decapping of mRNA containing caps substituted in the triphosphate with BH3. RNA 17, 978–88.
  5. Anderson, D. et al. (2011) Nucleoside modifications in RNA limit activation of 2’-5’ oligoadenylate synthetase and increase resistance to cleavage by RNase L. Nucl. Acid. Res. 39, 9329-38.

RNA virus Characterization

  1. Vashist, S. et al. (2012) Identification of RNA-protein interaction networks involved in the Norovirus life cycle. J. Vir. 86, 11977–90.
  2. Soto-Rifo, R. et al. (2012) Different effects of the TAR structure on HIV-1 and HIV-2 genomics RNA translation. Nucl. Acids. Res. 40, 2653–67.
  3. Poyry, T. et al. (2011) Mechanisms governing the selection of translation initiation sites on Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus RNA. J.Vir. 85, 10178–88.
  4. Cheng, E. et al. (2011) Characterization of the interaction between Hantavirus nucleopcapsid protein and ribosomal protein S19. J. Biol. Chem. 286, 11814–24.
  5. Vera-Otarola, J. et al. (2011) The Andes Hantavirus NSs Protein is expressed from the Viral mRMA by a leaky scanning mechanism. J. Vir. 86, 2176–87.