MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small RNAs that have been linked to a number of diseases including cancer. The potential application of miRNAs in the diagnostics and therapeutics of ovarian and other cancers is an area of intense interest. A current challenge is the inability to accurately predict the functional consequences of exogenous modulations in the levels of potentially therapeutic miRNAs.
In an initial effort to systematically address this issue, we conducted miRNA transfection experiments using two miRNAs (miR-7, miR-128). We monitored the consequent changes in global patterns of gene expression by microarray and quantitative (real-time) polymerase chain reaction. Network analysis of the expression data was used to predict the consequence of each transfection on cellular function and these predictions were experimentally tested.
While ~20% of the changes in expression patterns of hundreds to thousands of genes could be attributed to direct miRNA-mRNA interactions, the majority of the changes are indirect, involving the downstream consequences of miRNA-mediated changes in regulatory gene expression. The changes in gene expression induced by individual miRNAs are functionally coordinated but distinct between the two miRNAs. MiR-7 transfection into ovarian cancer cells induces changes in cell adhesion and other developmental networks previously associated with epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMT) and other processes linked with metastasis. In contrast, miR-128 transfection induces changes in cell cycle control and other processes commonly linked with cellular replication.
The functionally coordinated patterns of gene expression displayed by different families of miRNAs have the potential to provide clinicians with a strategy to treat cancers from a systems rather than a single gene perspective.