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Reporter genes encode protein products which can be rapidly and sensitively assayed as surrogate markers when fused to regulatory regions of genes of interest. For many years molecular and cell biologists have used chimeric reporter genes to analyze the cis-acting promoter gene regions that regulate gene expression, the signal transduction pathways that convey information from extracellular signaling molecules to the nucleus to stimulate or repress gene transcription, the mRNA sequences that control message stability, and the regions of messenger RNAs that regulate translational efficiency. Chimeric reporter genes can also be introduced into cultured cells or incorporated into transgenic animals.
Figure 1. Reporter genes can monitor the efficacy of gene delivery vehicles and of gene expression.
Reporter genes can “report” on different properties and events such as the strength of promoters, the intracellular fate of a gene product, the efficiency of translation initiation signals and a result of protein trafficking. Sometimes, the introduced reporter gene driven by a promoter of choice is referred to as a “transgene.” The reporter gene is cloned downstream of a regulatory region which is usually responsible for the controlled expression of a specific gene. These regulatory regions can be tissue or event specific in their actions, and they drive the transcription of the cloned reporter gene. Therefore, by introducing a reporter gene driven by a promoter of choice into the target tissue(s), one can indirectly monitor expression of the gene whose promoter has been cloned.
Reporter gene analysis provides a convenient, rapid, and sensitive assay that can be used to study gene delivery and gene expression. Use of reporter genes avoids developing a specific probe to evaluate the expression of each new gene of interest. For monitoring endogenous genes, the reporter gene method is indirect and does not in general provide identical information if the endogenous protein is directly assayed. However, the use of reporter genes can be an important approach because of their ability to study numerous processes without developing numerous reporter probes.