BackgroundReverse transcription quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) remains one of the best-established techniques to assess gene expression patterns. However, appropriate reference gene(s) selection remains a critical and challenging subject in which inappropriate reference gene selction can distort results leading to false interpretations. To date, mixed opinions still exist in how to choose the most optimal reference gene sets in accodrance to the Minimum Information for Publication of Quantitative Real-Time PCR Experiments (MIQE) guideline. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate which schemes were the most feasible for the identification of reference genes in a bone and cartilage bioengineering experimental setting. In this study, rat bone mesenchymal stem cells (rBMSCs), skeletal muscle tissue and adipose tissue were utilized, undergoing either chondrogenic or osteogenic induction, to investigate the optimal reference gene set identification scheme that would subsequently ensure stable and accurate interpretation of gene expression in bone and cartilage bioengineering.ResultsThe stability and pairwise variance of eight candidate reference genes were analyzed using geNorm. The V0.15- vs. Vmin-based normalization scheme in rBMSCs had no significant effect on the eventual normalization of target genes. In terms of the muscle tissue, the results of the correlation of NF values between the V0.15 and Vmin schemes and the variance of target genes expression levels generated by these two schemes showed that different schemes do indeed have a significant effect on the eventual normalization of target genes. Three selection schemes were adopted in terms of the adipose tissue, including the three optimal reference genes (Opt3), V0.20 and Vmin schemes, and the analysis of NF values with eventual normalization of target genes showed that the different selection schemes also have a significant effect on the eventual normalization of target genes.ConclusionsBased on these results, the proposed cut-off value of Vn/n + 1 under 0.15, according to the geNorm algorithm, should be considered with caution. For cell only experiments, at least rBMSCs, a Vn/n + 1 under 0.15 is sufficient in RT-qPCR studies. However, when using certain tissue types such as skeletal muscle and adipose tissue the minimum Vn/n + 1 should be used instead as this provides a far superior mode of generating accurate gene expression results. We thus recommended that when the stability and variation of a candidate reference genes in a specific study is unclear the minimum Vn/n + 1 should always be used as this ensures the best and most accurate gene expression value is achieved during RT-qPCR assays.