Degraded RNA from Human Anterior Cruciate Ligaments Yields Valid Gene Expression Profiles


Correlating gene expression patterns with biomechanical properties of connective tissues provides insights into the molecular processes underlying the tissue growth and repair. Cadaveric specimens such as human knees are widely considered suitable for biomechanical studies, but their usefulness for gene expression experiments is potentially limited by the unavoidable, nuclease-mediated degradation of RNA. Here, we tested whether valid gene expression profiles can be obtained using degraded RNA from human anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs). Human ACL RNA (N = 6) degraded in vitro by limited ribonuclease digestion resemble highly degraded RNA isolated from cadaveric tissue. PCR threshold cycle (Ct) values for 90 transcripts (84 extracellular matrix, 6 housekeeping) in degraded RNAs variably ranged higher than values obtained from their corresponding non-degraded RNAs, reflecting both the expected loss of target templates in the degraded preparations as well as differences in the extent of degradation. Relative Ct values obtained for mRNAs in degraded preparations strongly correlated with the corresponding levels in non-degraded RNA, both for each ACL as well as for the pooled results from all six ACLs. Nuclease-mediated degradation produced similar, strongly correlated losses of housekeeping and non-housekeeping gene mRNAs. RNA degraded in situ yielded comparable results, confirming that in vitro digestion effectively modeled degradation by endogenous ribonucleases in frozen and thawed ACL. We conclude that, contrary to conventional wisdom, PCR-based expression analyses can yield valid mRNA profiles even from RNA preparations that are more than 90% degraded, such as those obtained from connective tissues subjected to biomechanical studies. Furthermore, legitimate quantitative comparisons between variably degraded tissues can be made by normalizing data to appropriate housekeeping transcripts.


© 2023 by the authors. cc-by


biomechanics, gene expression, knee, ligament, RNA, tendon, tissue remodeling


Ashton, M.N., Worsham, A.E., Strawn, M.D., Fisher, G.D., Perry, C.J., Ferguson, M.P., Zumwalt, M., Brindley, G.W., Hashemi, J., Mansouri, H., Slauterbeck, J.R., & Hardy, D.M.. 2023. Degraded RNA from Human Anterior Cruciate Ligaments Yields Valid Gene Expression Profiles. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(3).