A polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based method was used to quantitate the expression levels of low abundance genes relevant to cancer drug activity. RNA from tumor samples as small as 20 mg was isolated and converted to cDNA using random hexamers. The 5′ primers for the PCR contained a T7 polymerase promoter sequence, allowing the PCR-amplified DNA to be transcribed to RNA fragments. In each sample, the linear ranges of amplification of each cDNA of interest were established. Relative gene expressions were calculated by extrapolating the amounts of PCR products generated within the linear amplification regions of each gene to equal volumes of the cDNA solution. The method was accurate to less than a 2-fold difference in expression levels. Using β2-microglobulin and β-actin gene expressions as internal reference standards and cDNA from HT-29 cells as an external linearity standard, we measured the relative expressions of thymidylate synthase, dihydrofolate reductase, and DT-diaphorase in a number of clinical tumor samples. The expressions of these genes varied from 50- to 100-fold among different tumors, although most of the values were grouped within about a 10-fold range. The amount of thymidylate synthase gene expression in tumor tissues was directly proportional to the content of thymidylate synthase protein. Those tumors with the lowest thymidylate synthase expression had the best response to both the 5-fluorouracil-leucovorin and 5-fluorouracil-cisplatin combinations.


This research was supported by American Cancer Society Grant CH-490. M. V. was supported by Grant Vo 415/1-1 from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. T. S. was supported by the PFM Company, Cologne, Germany.

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