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1.  Probing the microRNA pathway with small molecules 
Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry  2013;21(20):6119-6123.
MicroRNA (miRNA)/RNA interference (RNAi) is recognized as one of the most important mechanisms regulating gene expression at the posttranscriptional level in eukaryotic cells. The main components within the miRNA/RNAi pathway are now known and well characterized, but studies on the molecular mechanisms that regulate the activity of the miRNA/RNAi pathway are just beginning to emerge. High-throughput reporter assays have been developed to monitor the activity of the miRNA/RNAi pathway and applied in a proof-of-concept pilot screening, which has led to the identification of some inhibitors and activators that either generally or specifically regulate the activity of the miRNA/RNAi pathway. In addition, combined with multidisciplinary approaches like proteomics, biochemistry, and genetics, some protein co-factors were found to play important roles in the regulation of the miRNA/RNAi pathway. Herein we highlight the high-throughput reporter assays developed in recent years and the resulting discovery of miRNA/RNAi enhancers and inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3789859  PMID: 23791866
microRNA/RNAi pathway; reporter system; high-throughput screening; small molecule; chemical biology approach; enhancer; inhibitor
2.  MicroRNA–Directed siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(4):e1000903.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional silencing process, triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), leading to the destabilization of homologous mRNAs. A distinction has been made between endogenous RNAi–related pathways and the exogenous RNAi pathway, the latter being essential for the experimental use of RNAi. Previous studies have shown that, in Caenorhabditis elegans, a complex containing the enzymes Dicer and the Argonaute RDE-1 process dsRNA. Dicer is responsible for cleaving dsRNA into short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) while RDE-1 acts as the siRNA acceptor. RDE-1 then guides a multi-protein complex to homologous targets to trigger mRNA destabilization. However, endogenous role(s) for RDE-1, if any, have remained unexplored. We here show that RDE-1 functions as a scavenger protein, taking up small RNA molecules from many different sources, including the microRNA (miRNA) pathway. This is in striking contrast to Argonaute proteins functioning directly in the miRNA pathway, ALG-1 and ALG-2: these proteins exclusively bind miRNAs. While playing no significant role in the biogenesis of the main pool of miRNAs, RDE-1 binds endogenous miRNAs and triggers RdRP activity on at least one perfectly matching, endogenous miRNA target. The resulting secondary siRNAs are taken up by a set of Argonaute proteins known to act as siRNA acceptors in exogenous RNAi, resulting in strong mRNA destabilization. Our results show that RDE-1 in an endogenous setting is actively screening the transcriptome using many different small RNAs, including miRNAs, as a guide, with implications for the evolution of transcripts with a potential to be recognized by Dicer.
Author Summary
Due to its intrinsic characteristics, RNA interference (RNAi) has become one of the most widely used tools in cell biology and has revolutionized approaches to elucidate gene function. The process, also known as RNA silencing, is triggered by dsRNA molecules that are cleaved by Dicer proteins into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). The rde-1 gene from Caenorhabditis elegans was one of the first genes found in association with this mechanism and encodes the only Argonaute protein in worms, which is by itself essential for the classical RNAi pathway triggered by exogenously introduced dsRNA. However, little is known about endogenous functions of RDE-1. Here we show that RDE-1 binds to many classes of small RNAs, including microRNAs. We show that miR-243 is efficiently bound by RDE-1 and triggers regular RNAi on an endogenous target, implying that many RNA species, including miRNAs, are constantly being screened against the transcriptome using the canonical exogenous RNAi pathway.
PMCID: PMC2851571  PMID: 20386745
3.  The miR-35-41 Family of MicroRNAs Regulates RNAi Sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002536.
RNA interference (RNAi) utilizes small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to direct silencing of specific genes through transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. The siRNA guides can originate from exogenous (exo–RNAi) or natural endogenous (endo–RNAi) sources of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). In Caenorhabditis elegans, inactivation of genes that function in the endo–RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing of genes targeted by siRNAs from exogenous sources, indicating cross-regulation between the pathways. Here we show that members of another small RNA pathway, the mir-35-41 cluster of microRNAs (miRNAs) can regulate RNAi. In worms lacking miR-35-41, there is reduced expression of lin-35/Rb, the C. elegans homolog of the tumor suppressor Retinoblastoma gene, previously shown to regulate RNAi responsiveness. Genome-wide microarray analyses show that targets of endo–siRNAs are up-regulated in mir-35-41 mutants, a phenotype also displayed by lin-35/Rb mutants. Furthermore, overexpression of lin-35/Rb specifically rescues the RNAi hypersensitivity of mir-35-41 mutants. Although the mir-35-41 miRNAs appear to be exclusively expressed in germline and embryos, their effect on RNAi sensitivity is transmitted to multiple tissues and stages of development. Additionally, we demonstrate that maternal contribution of miR-35-41 or lin-35/Rb is sufficient to reduce RNAi effectiveness in progeny worms. Our results reveal that miRNAs can broadly regulate other small RNA pathways and, thus, have far reaching effects on gene expression beyond directly targeting specific mRNAs.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) has become a widely used approach for silencing genes of interest. This tool is possible because endogenous RNA silencing pathways exist broadly across organisms, including humans, worms, and plants. The general RNAi pathway utilizes small ∼21-nucleotide RNAs to target specific protein-coding genes through base-pairing interactions. Since RNAs from exogenous sources require some of the same factors as endogenous small RNAs to silence gene expression, there can be competition between the pathways. Thus, perturbations in the endogenous RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing efficiency by exogenous small RNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) comprise another endogenous small RNA pathway, but their biogenesis and mechanism of gene silencing are distinct in many ways from RNAi pathways. Here we show that a family of miRNAs regulates the effectiveness of RNAi in Caenorhabditis elegans. Loss of mir-35-41 results in enhanced RNAi by exogenous RNAs and reduced silencing of endogenous RNAi targets. The embryonic miR-35-41 miRNAs regulate the sensitivity to RNAi through lin-35/Rb, a homolog of the human Retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene previously shown to regulate RNAi effectiveness in C. elegans. Additionally, we show that this sensitivity can be passed on to the next generation of worms, demonstrating a far-reaching effect of the miR-35-41 miRNAs on gene regulation by other small RNA pathways.
PMCID: PMC3297572  PMID: 22412382
4.  Role of RNA Interference (RNAi) in the Moss Physcomitrella patens 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a mechanism that regulates genes by either transcriptional (TGS) or posttranscriptional gene silencing (PTGS), required for genome maintenance and proper development of an organism. Small non-coding RNAs are the key players in RNAi and have been intensively studied in eukaryotes. In plants, several classes of small RNAs with specific sizes and dedicated functions have evolved. The major classes of small RNAs include microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), which differ in their biogenesis. miRNAs are synthesized from a short hairpin structure while siRNAs are derived from long double-stranded RNAs (dsRNA). Both miRNA and siRNAs control the expression of cognate target RNAs by binding to reverse complementary sequences mediating cleavage or translational inhibition of the target RNA. They also act on the DNA and cause epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation and histone modifications. In the last years, the analysis of plant RNAi pathways was extended to the bryophyte Physcomitrella patens, a non-flowering, non-vascular ancient land plant that diverged from the lineage of seed plants approximately 450 million years ago. Based on a number of characteristic features and its phylogenetic key position in land plant evolution P. patens emerged as a plant model species to address basic as well as applied topics in plant biology. Here we summarize the current knowledge on the role of RNAi in P. patens that shows functional overlap with RNAi pathways from seed plants, and also unique features specific to this species.
PMCID: PMC3565333  PMID: 23344055
RNAi; non-coding RNAs; miRNA; siRNA; gene silencing; Physcomitrella patens
5.  A small molecule enhances RNA interference and promotes microRNA processing 
Nature biotechnology  2008;26(8):933-940.
Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs) are sequence-specific post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression. Although major components of the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway have been identified, regulatory mechanisms for this pathway remain largely unknown. Here we demonstrate that the RNAi pathway can be modulated intracellularly by small molecules. We have developed a cell-based assay to monitor the activity of the RNAi pathway and find that the small-molecule enoxacin (Penetrex) enhances siRNA-mediated mRNA degradation and promotes the biogenesis of endogenous miRNAs. We show that this RNAi-enhancing activity depends on the trans-activation-responsive region RNA-binding protein. Our results provide a proof-of-principle demonstration that small molecules can be used to modulate the activity of the RNAi pathway. RNAi enhancers may be useful in the development of research tools and therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2831467  PMID: 18641635
6.  MicroRNAs in cancer 
Annual review of pathology  2009;4:199-227.
During the last few years, studies on microRNA (miRNA) and cancer have burst onto the scene. Profiling of the miRNome (global miRNA expression levels) has become prevalent and abundant miRNome data are currently available from various cancers. The pattern of miRNA expression can be correlated with cancer type, stage, and other clinical variables, so that miRNA profiling can be used as a tool for cancer diagnosis and prognosis. miRNA expression analyses also suggested oncogenic (or tumor suppressive) roles of miRNAs. miRNAs play roles in almost all aspects of cancer biology such as proliferation, apoptosis, invasion/metastasis, and angiogenesis. Given that many miRNAs are deregulated in cancers but have not yet been further studied, it is expected that more miRNAs will emerge as players in the etiology and progression of cancer. miRNAs will be also discussed as a tool for cancer therapy.
During the last decade, a major discovery in biology was the discovery of small RNAs, including miRNA (microRNA) and siRNA (small interfering RNA), as highlighted by the 2002 December issue of Science magazine (1). Since RNA interference (RNAi) phenomenon was discovered in nematodes (2), siRNA has provided a technical breakthrough for short term genetics in mammalian systems. The big impact of small RNAs was well celebrated by the 2006 Nobel prize awarded to the two scientists who discovered RNAi.
On the other side, miRNAs shed new insight on the post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. miRNAs were also first discovered in worms (3, 4), and later in a number of animals, plants, and viruses. During the last couple of years, the miRNA field has been expanding with many recent publications implicating miRNAs in diverse cellular processes.
Cancer is a major cause of death in the United States (“Cancer Facts & Figures 2007” from American Cancer Society; Cancer is a complex genetic disease caused by the accumulation of mutations that lead to deregulation of gene expression and uncontrolled cell proliferation. Given the wide impact of miRNAs on gene expression, it is not surprising that a number of miRNAs have been implicated in cancer. In this review, the links between miRNA and cancer will be comprehensively described and discussed.
PMCID: PMC2769253  PMID: 18817506
microRNA; cancer; tumorigenesis; oncogene; tumor suppressor; microRNA expression profile; diagnosis and prognosis; therapy
7.  The evolution of core proteins involved in microRNA biogenesis 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a recently discovered class of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) which play important roles in eukaryotic gene regulation. miRNA biogenesis and activation is a complex process involving multiple protein catalysts and involves the large macromolecular RNAi Silencing Complex or RISC. While phylogenetic analyses of miRNA genes have been previously published, the evolution of miRNA biogenesis itself has been little studied. In order to better understand the origin of miRNA processing in animals and plants, we determined the phyletic occurrences and evolutionary relationships of four major miRNA pathway protein components; Dicer, Argonaute, RISC RNA-binding proteins, and Exportin-5.
Phylogenetic analyses show that all four miRNA pathway proteins were derived from large multiple protein families. As an example, vertebrate and invertebrate Argonaute (Ago) proteins diverged from a larger family of PIWI/Argonaute proteins found throughout eukaryotes. Further gene duplications among vertebrates after the evolution of chordates from urochordates but prior to the emergence of fishes lead to the evolution of four Ago paralogues. Invertebrate RISC RNA-binding proteins R2D2 and Loquacious are related to other RNA-binding protein families such as Staufens as well as vertebrate-specific TAR (HIV trans-activator RNA) RNA-binding protein (TRBP) and protein kinase R-activating protein (PACT). Export of small RNAs from the nucleus, including miRNA, is facilitated by three closely related karyopherin-related nuclear transporters, Exportin-5, Exportin-1 and Exportin-T. While all three exportins have direct orthologues in deutrostomes, missing exportins in arthropods (Exportin-T) and nematodes (Exportin-5) are likely compensated by dual specificities of one of the other exportin paralogues.
Co-opting particular isoforms from large, diverse protein families seems to be a common theme in the evolution of miRNA biogenesis. Human miRNA biogenesis proteins have direct, orthologues in cold-blooded fishes and, in some cases, urochordates and deutrostomes. However, lineage specific expansions of Dicer in plants and invertebrates as well as Argonaute and RNA-binding proteins in vertebrates suggests that novel ncRNA regulatory mechanisms can evolve in relatively short evolutionary timeframes. The occurrence of multiple homologues to RNA-binding and Argonaute/PIWI proteins also suggests the possible existence of further pathways for additional types of ncRNAs.
PMCID: PMC2287173  PMID: 18366743
8.  Comparative Genomics Reveals Two Novel RNAi Factors in Trypanosoma brucei and Provides Insight into the Core Machinery 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002678.
The introduction ten years ago of RNA interference (RNAi) as a tool for molecular exploration in Trypanosoma brucei has led to a surge in our understanding of the pathogenesis and biology of this human parasite. In particular, a genome-wide RNAi screen has recently been combined with next-generation Illumina sequencing to expose catalogues of genes associated with loss of fitness in distinct developmental stages. At present, this technology is restricted to RNAi-positive protozoan parasites, which excludes T. cruzi, Leishmania major, and Plasmodium falciparum. Therefore, elucidating the mechanism of RNAi and identifying the essential components of the pathway is fundamental for improving RNAi efficiency in T. brucei and for transferring the RNAi tool to RNAi-deficient pathogens. Here we used comparative genomics of RNAi-positive and -negative trypanosomatid protozoans to identify the repertoire of factors in T. brucei. In addition to the previously characterized Argonaute 1 (AGO1) protein and the cytoplasmic and nuclear Dicers, TbDCL1 and TbDCL2, respectively, we identified the RNA Interference Factors 4 and 5 (TbRIF4 and TbRIF5). TbRIF4 is a 3′-5′ exonuclease of the DnaQ superfamily and plays a critical role in the conversion of duplex siRNAs to the single-stranded form, thus generating a TbAGO1-siRNA complex required for target-specific cleavage. TbRIF5 is essential for cytoplasmic RNAi and appears to act as a TbDCL1 cofactor. The availability of the core RNAi machinery in T. brucei provides a platform to gain mechanistic insights in this ancient eukaryote and to identify the minimal set of components required to reconstitute RNAi in RNAi-deficient parasites.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi), a naturally-occurring pathway whereby the presence of double-stranded RNA in a cell triggers the degradation of homologous mRNA, has been harnessed in many organisms as an invaluable molecular biology tool to interrogate gene function. Although this technology is widely used in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, other parasites of considerable public health significance, such as Trypanosoma cruzi, Leishmania major, and Plasmodium falciparum do not perform RNAi. Since RNAi has recently been introduced into budding yeast, this opens up the possibility that RNAi can be reconstituted in these pathogens. The key to this is getting a handle on the essential RNAi factors in T. brucei. By applying comparative genomics we identified five genes that are present in the RNAi-proficient species, but not in RNAi-deficient species: three previously identified RNAi factors, and two novel ones, which are described here. This insight into the core T. brucei RNAi machinery represents a major step towards transferring this pathway to RNAi-deficient parasites.
PMCID: PMC3359990  PMID: 22654659
9.  A Densely Interconnected Genome-Wide Network of MicroRNAs and Oncogenic Pathways Revealed Using Gene Expression Signatures 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(12):e1002415.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important components of cellular signaling pathways, acting either as pathway regulators or pathway targets. Currently, only a limited number of miRNAs have been functionally linked to specific signaling pathways. Here, we explored if gene expression signatures could be used to represent miRNA activities and integrated with genomic signatures of oncogenic pathway activity to identify connections between miRNAs and oncogenic pathways on a high-throughput, genome-wide scale. Mapping >300 gene expression signatures to >700 primary tumor profiles, we constructed a genome-wide miRNA–pathway network predicting the associations of 276 human miRNAs to 26 oncogenic pathways. The miRNA–pathway network confirmed a host of previously reported miRNA/pathway associations and uncovered several novel associations that were subsequently experimentally validated. Globally, the miRNA–pathway network demonstrates a small-world, but not scale-free, organization characterized by multiple distinct, tightly knit modules each exhibiting a high density of connections. However, unlike genetic or metabolic networks typified by only a few highly connected nodes (“hubs”), most nodes in the miRNA–pathway network are highly connected. Sequence-based computational analysis confirmed that highly-interconnected miRNAs are likely to be regulated by common pathways to target similar sets of downstream genes, suggesting a pervasive and high level of functional redundancy among coexpressed miRNAs. We conclude that gene expression signatures can be used as surrogates of miRNA activity. Our strategy facilitates the task of discovering novel miRNA–pathway connections, since gene expression data for multiple normal and disease conditions are abundantly available.
Author Summary
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are naturally occurring small RNA molecules of ∼22 nucleotides that regulate gene expression. Recent studies have shown that miRNAs can behave as important components of cellular signaling pathways, as pathway regulators or pathway targets. Currently however, only a few miRNAs have been functionally linked to specific signaling pathways, raising the need for novel approaches to accelerate the identification of miRNA–pathway connections. Here, we show that gene expression signatures, previously used to reflect patterns of pathway activation, can also be used to represent miRNA activities. Using this approach, we constructed a genome-wide miRNA–pathway network predicting the associations of 276 human miRNAs to 26 oncogenic pathways. The miRNA–pathway network confirmed a host of previously reported miRNA/pathway associations and uncovered several novel associations that were subsequently experimentally validated. Besides being the first study to conceptually demonstrate that expression signatures can act as surrogates of miRNA activity, our study provides a large database of candidate pathway-modulating miRNAs, which researchers interested in a particular pathway (e.g. Ras, Myc) are likely to find useful. Moreover, because this approach solely employs gene expression, it is immediately applicable to the thousands of microarray data sets currently available in the public domain.
PMCID: PMC3240594  PMID: 22194702
10.  A whole-genome RNAi screen for C. elegans miRNA pathway genes 
Current biology : CB  2007;17(23):2013-2022.
miRNAs are an abundant class of small, endogenous regulatory RNAs. Although it is now appreciated that miRNAs are involved in a broad range of biological processes, relatively little is known about the actual mechanism by which miRNAs down-regulate target gene expression. An exploration of what protein co-factors are necessary for a miRNA to down-regulate a target gene should reveal more fully the molecular mechanisms by which miRNAs are processed, trafficked, and regulate their target genes.
A weak allele of the C. elegans miRNA gene let-7 was used as a sensitized genetic background for a whole-genome RNAi screen to detect miRNA pathway genes, and 213 candidate miRNA pathway genes were identified. About 2/3 of the 61 candidates with the strongest phenotype were validated through genetic tests examining the dependence of the let-7 phenotype on target genes known to function in the let-7 pathway. Biochemical tests for let-7 miRNA production place the function of nearly all of these new miRNA pathway genes downstream of let-7 expression and processing. By monitoring the down-regulation of the protein product of the lin-14 mRNA, which is the target of the lin-4 miRNA, we have identified 19 general miRNA pathway genes.
The 213 candidate miRNA pathway genes identified could act at steps that produce and traffic miRNAs or in downstream steps that detect miRNA::mRNA duplexes to regulate mRNA translation. The 19 validated general miRNA pathway genes are good candidates for genes that may define protein cofactors for sorting or targeting miRNA::mRNA duplexes, or recognizing the miRNA basepaired to the target mRNA to down-regulate translation.
PMCID: PMC2211719  PMID: 18023351
11.  Small Molecule Modifiers of the microRNA and RNA Interference Pathway 
The AAPS Journal  2009;12(1):51-60.
Recently, the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway has become the target of small molecule inhibitors and activators. RNAi has been well established as a research tool in the sequence-specific silencing of genes in eukaryotic cells and organisms by using exogenous, small, double-stranded RNA molecules of approximately 20 nucleotides. Moreover, a recently discovered post-transcriptional gene regulatory mechanism employs microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of endogenously expressed small RNA molecules, which are processed via the RNAi pathway. The chemical modulation of RNAi has important therapeutic relevance, because a wide range of miRNAs has been linked to a variety of human diseases, especially cancer. Thus, the activation of tumor-suppressive miRNAs and the inhibition of oncogenic miRNAs by small molecules have the potential to provide a fundamentally new approach for the development of cancer therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2811638  PMID: 19937410
cancer; microRNA; RNA; RNA interference; small molecule
12.  AutomiG, a Biosensor to Detect Alterations in miRNA Biogenesis and in Small RNA Silencing Guided by Perfect Target Complementarity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74296.
Defects in miRNA biogenesis or activity are associated to development abnormalities and diseases. In Drosophila, miRNAs are predominantly loaded in Argonaute-1, which they guide for silencing of target RNAs. The miRNA pathway overlaps the RNAi pathway in this organism, as miRNAs may also associate with Argonaute-2, the mediator of RNAi. We set up a gene construct in which a single inducible promoter directs the expression of the GFP protein as well as two miRNAs perfectly matching the GFP sequences. We show that self-silencing of the resulting automiG gene requires Drosha, Pasha, Dicer-1, Dicer-2 and Argonaute-2 loaded with the anti-GFP miRNAs. In contrast, self-silencing of the automiG gene does not involve Argonaute-1. Thus, automiG reports in vivo for both miRNA biogenesis and Ago-2 mediated silencing, providing a powerful biosensor to identify situations where miRNA or siRNA pathways are impaired. As a proof of concept, we used automiG as a biosensor to screen a chemical library and identified 29 molecules that strongly inhibit miRNA silencing, out of which 5 also inhibit RNAi triggered by long double-stranded RNA. Finally, the automiG sensor is also self-silenced by the anti-GFP miRNAs in HeLa cells and might be easily used to identify factors involved in miRNA biogenesis and silencing guided by perfect target complementarity in mammals.
PMCID: PMC3760873  PMID: 24019960
13.  Online GESS: prediction of miRNA-like off-target effects in large-scale RNAi screen data by seed region analysis 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15:192.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an effective and important tool used to study gene function. For large-scale screens, RNAi is used to systematically down-regulate genes of interest and analyze their roles in a biological process. However, RNAi is associated with off-target effects (OTEs), including microRNA (miRNA)-like OTEs. The contribution of reagent-specific OTEs to RNAi screen data sets can be significant. In addition, the post-screen validation process is time and labor intensive. Thus, the availability of robust approaches to identify candidate off-targeted transcripts would be beneficial.
Significant efforts have been made to eliminate false positive results attributable to sequence-specific OTEs associated with RNAi. These approaches have included improved algorithms for RNAi reagent design, incorporation of chemical modifications into siRNAs, and the use of various bioinformatics strategies to identify possible OTEs in screen results. Genome-wide Enrichment of Seed Sequence matches (GESS) was developed to identify potential off-targeted transcripts in large-scale screen data by seed-region analysis. Here, we introduce a user-friendly web application that provides researchers a relatively quick and easy way to perform GESS analysis on data from human or mouse cell-based screens using short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) or short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs), as well as for Drosophila screens using shRNAs. Online GESS relies on up-to-date transcript sequence annotations for human and mouse genes extracted from NCBI Reference Sequence (RefSeq) and Drosophila genes from FlyBase. The tool also accommodates analysis with user-provided reference sequence files.
Online GESS provides a straightforward user interface for genome-wide seed region analysis for human, mouse and Drosophila RNAi screen data. With the tool, users can either use a built-in database or provide a database of transcripts for analysis. This makes it possible to analyze RNAi data from any organism for which the user can provide transcript sequences.
PMCID: PMC4073188  PMID: 24934636
RNAi; Off-target effects; Data analysis; Seed region; miRNA; siRNA; shRNA; High-throughput screening
14.  Modulators of the microRNA biogenesis pathway via arrayed lentiviral enabled RNAi screening for drug and biomarker discovery 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small endogenous and conserved non-coding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression. Although the first miRNA was discovered well over sixteen years ago, little is known about their biogenesis and it is only recently that we have begun to understand their scope and diversity. For this purpose, we performed an RNAi screen aimed at identifying genes involved in their biogenesis pathway with a potential use as biomarkers. Using a previously developed miRNA 21 (miR-21) EGFP-based biosensor cell based assay monitoring green fluorescence enhancements, we performed an arrayed short hairpin RNA (shRNA) screen against a lentiviral particle ready TRC1 library covering 16,039 genes in 384-well plate format, and interrogating the genome one gene at a time building a panoramic view of endogenous miRNA activity. Using the BDA method for RNAi data analysis, we nominate 497 gene candidates the knockdown of which increased the EGFP fluorescence and yielding an initial hit rate of 3.09%; of which only 22, with reported validated clones, are deemed high-confidence gene candidates. An unexpected and surprising result was that only DROSHA was identified as a hit out of the seven core essential miRNA biogenesis genes; suggesting that perhaps intracellular shRNA processing into the correct duplex may be cell dependent and with differential outcome. Biological classification revealed several major control junctions among them genes involved in transport and vesicular trafficking. In summary, we report on 22 high confidence gene candidate regulators of miRNA biogenesis with potential use in drug and biomarker discovery.
PMCID: PMC3884689  PMID: 23977983
miRNA; biogenesis; shRNA; H score; BDA method; RNAi; HCS; biomarker; HCA; miRNA 21; DROSHA; biomarker; diagnostics
15.  Clustering phenotype populations by genome-wide RNAi and multiparametric imaging 
How to predict gene function from phenotypic cues is a longstanding question in biology.Using quantitative multiparametric imaging, RNAi-mediated cell phenotypes were measured on a genome-wide scale.On the basis of phenotypic ‘neighbourhoods', we identified previously uncharacterized human genes as mediators of the DNA damage response pathway and the maintenance of genomic integrity.The phenotypic map is provided as an online resource at for discovering further functional relationships for a broad spectrum of biological module
Genetic screens for phenotypic similarity have made key contributions for associating genes with biological processes. Aggregating genes by similarity of their loss-of-function phenotype has provided insights into signalling pathways that have a conserved function from Drosophila to human (Nusslein-Volhard and Wieschaus, 1980; Bier, 2005). Complex visual phenotypes, such as defects in pattern formation during development, greatly facilitated the classification of genes into pathways, and phenotypic similarities in many cases predicted molecular relationships. With RNA interference (RNAi), highly parallel phenotyping of loss-of-function effects in cultured cells has become feasible in many organisms whose genome have been sequenced (Boutros and Ahringer, 2008). One of the current challenges is the computational categorization of visual phenotypes and the prediction of gene function and associated biological processes. With large parts of the genome still being in unchartered territory, deriving functional information from large-scale phenotype analysis promises to uncover novel gene–gene relationships and to generate functional maps to explore cellular processes.
In this study, we developed an automated approach using RNAi-mediated cell phenotypes, multiparametric imaging and computational modelling to obtain functional information on previously uncharacterized genes. To generate broad, computer-readable phenotypic signatures, we measured the effect of RNAi-mediated knockdowns on changes of cell morphology in human cells on a genome-wide scale. First, the several million cells were stained for nuclear and cytoskeletal markers and then imaged using automated microscopy. On the basis of fluorescent markers, we established an automated image analysis to classify individual cells (Figure 1A). After cell segmentation for determining nuclei and cell boundaries (Figure 1C), we computed 51 cell descriptors that quantified intensities, shape characteristics and texture (Figure 1F). Individual cells were categorized into 1 of 10 classes, which included cells showing protrusion/elongation, cells in metaphase, large cells, condensed cells, cells with lamellipodia and cellular debris (Figure 1D and E). Each siRNA knockdown was summarized by a phenotypic profile and differences between RNAi knockdowns were quantified by the similarity between phenotypic profiles. We termed the vector of scores a phenoprint (Figure 3C) and defined the phenotypic distance between a pair of perturbations as the distance between their corresponding phenoprints.
To visualize the distribution of all phenoprints, we plotted them in a genome-wide map as a two-dimensional representation of the phenotypic similarity relationships (Figure 3A). The complete data set and an interactive version of the phenotypic map are available at The map identified phenotypic ‘neighbourhoods', which are characterized by cells with lamellipodia (WNK3, ANXA4), cells with prominent actin fibres (ODF2, SOD3), abundance of large cells (CA14), many elongated cells (SH2B2, ELMO2), decrease in cell number (TPX2, COPB1, COPA), increase in number of cells in metaphase (BLR1, CIB2) and combinations of phenotypes such as presence of large cells with protrusions and bright nuclei (PTPRZ1, RRM1; Figure 3B).
To test whether phenotypic similarity might serve as a predictor of gene function, we focused our further analysis on two clusters that contained genes associated with the DNA damage response (DDR) and genomic integrity (Figure 3A and C). The first phenotypic cluster included proteins with kinetochore-associated functions such as NUF2 (Figure 3B) and SGOL1. It also contained the centrosomal protein CEP164 that has been described as an important mediator of the DNA damage-activated signalling cascade (Sivasubramaniam et al, 2008) and the largely uncharacterized genes DONSON and SON. A second phenotypically distinct cluster included previously described components of the DDR pathway such as RRM1 (Figure 3A–C), CLSPN, PRIM2 and SETD8. Furthermore, this cluster contained the poorly characterized genes CADM1 and CD3EAP.
Cells activate a signalling cascade in response to DNA damage induced by exogenous and endogenous factors. Central are the kinases ATM and ATR as they serve as sensors of DNA damage and activators of further downstream kinases (Harper and Elledge, 2007; Cimprich and Cortez, 2008). To investigate whether DONSON, SON, CADM1 and CD3EAP, which were found in phenotypic ‘neighbourhoods' to known DDR components, have a role in the DNA damage signalling pathway, we tested the effect of their depletion on the DDR on γ irradiation. As indicated by reduced CHEK1 phosphorylation, siRNA knock down of DONSON, SON, CD3EAP or CADM1 resulted in impaired DDR signalling on γ irradiation. Furthermore, knock down of DONSON or SON reduced phosphorylation of downstream effectors such as NBS1, CHEK1 and the histone variant H2AX on UVC irradiation. DONSON depletion also impaired recruitment of RPA2 onto chromatin and SON knockdown reduced RPA2 phosphorylation indicating that DONSON and SON presumably act downstream of the activation of ATM. In agreement to their phenotypic profile, these results suggest that DONSON, SON, CADM1 and CD3EAP are important mediators of the DDR. Further experiments demonstrated that they are also required for the maintenance of genomic integrity.
In summary, we show that genes with similar phenotypic profiles tend to share similar functions. The power of our computational and experimental approach is demonstrated by the identification of novel signalling regulators whose phenotypic profiles were found in proximity to known biological modules. Therefore, we believe that such phenotypic maps can serve as a resource for functional discovery and characterization of unknown genes. Furthermore, such approaches are also applicable for other perturbation reagents, such as small molecules in drug discovery and development. One could also envision combined maps that contain both siRNAs and small molecules to predict target–small molecule relationships and potential side effects.
Genetic screens for phenotypic similarity have made key contributions to associating genes with biological processes. With RNA interference (RNAi), highly parallel phenotyping of loss-of-function effects in cells has become feasible. One of the current challenges however is the computational categorization of visual phenotypes and the prediction of biological function and processes. In this study, we describe a combined computational and experimental approach to discover novel gene functions and explore functional relationships. We performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in human cells and used quantitative descriptors derived from high-throughput imaging to generate multiparametric phenotypic profiles. We show that profiles predicted functions of genes by phenotypic similarity. Specifically, we examined several candidates including the largely uncharacterized gene DONSON, which shared phenotype similarity with known factors of DNA damage response (DDR) and genomic integrity. Experimental evidence supports that DONSON is a novel centrosomal protein required for DDR signalling and genomic integrity. Multiparametric phenotyping by automated imaging and computational annotation is a powerful method for functional discovery and mapping the landscape of phenotypic responses to cellular perturbations.
PMCID: PMC2913390  PMID: 20531400
DNA damage response signalling; massively parallel phenotyping; phenotype networks; RNAi screening
16.  Viral RNA Silencing Suppressors (RSS): Novel Strategy of Viruses to Ablate the Host RNA Interference (RNAi) Defense System 
Virus research  2010;155(1):1-9.
Pathogenic viruses have developed a molecular defense arsenal for their survival by counteracting the host anti-viral system known as RNA interference (RNAi). Cellular RNAi, in addition to regulating gene expression through microRNAs, also serves as a barrier against invasive foreign nucleic acids. RNAi is conserved across the biological species, including plants, animals and invertebrates. Viruses in turn, have evolved mechanisms that can counteract this anti-viral defense of the host. Recent studies of mammalian viruses exhibiting RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) activity have further advanced our understanding of RNAi in terms of host-virus interactions. Viral proteins and non-coding viral RNAs can inhibit the RNAi (miRNA/siRNA) pathway through different mechanisms. Mammalian viruses having dsRNA-binding regions and GW/WG motifs appear to have a high chance of conferring RSS activity. Although, RSSs of plant and invertebrate viruses have been well characterized, mammalian viral RSSs still need in-depth investigations to present the concrete evidences supporting their RNAi ablation characteristics. The information presented in this review together with any perspective research should help to predict and identify the RSS activity-endowed new viral proteins that could be the potential targets for designing novel anti-viral therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3042272  PMID: 20951748
miRNA; ds-RNA binding protein; Dicer; Argonaute; RISC; GW/WG motif; HIV-1 Tat; Influenza A virus NS1
17.  MicroRNAs that interfere with RNAi 
Worm  2013;2(1):e21835.
A recent study by Massirer et al. in the nematode C. elegans has shown that a family of microRNAs (miRNAs), miR-35-41, regulates the efficiency of RNA interference (RNAi), revealing a new connection between these small RNA pathways. In this commentary, we discuss the potential mechanisms for cross regulation in the miRNA and RNAi pathways and the implications for gene expression. While miRNAs are genetically encoded, the small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that function in RNAi can originate from processing of exogenous dsRNA (exo-RNAi) or from the production of siRNAs from endogenous transcripts (endo-RNAi). These small RNA pathways involve Dicer and Argonaute proteins and typically use antisense base pairing to target mRNAs for downregulated expression. The discovery that loss of miR-35–41 results in enhanced exo-RNAi sensitivity and reduced endo-RNAi effectiveness suggests that these miRNAs normally help balance the RNAi pathways. The effect of mir-35–41 on RNAi is largely through lin-35, the C. elegans homolog of the tumor suppressor Retinoblastoma (Rb) gene. lin-35/Rb previously has been shown to regulate RNAi sensitivity through unclear mechanisms and the new finding that accumulation of LIN-35/Rb protein is dependent on miR-35–41 adds another layer of complexity to this process. The utilization of miRNAs to control the responsiveness of RNAi exemplifies the cross-regulation embedded in small RNA-directed pathways.
PMCID: PMC3670461  PMID: 24058860
C. elegans; RNAi; lin-35; miR-35-41; miRNA; retinoblastoma (Rb)
18.  Characterizing the role of miRNAs within gene regulatory networks using integrative genomics techniques 
By integrating genotype information, microRNA transcript abundances and mRNA expression levels, Eric Schadt and colleagues provide insights into the genetic basis of microRNA gene expression and the role of microRNAs within the liver gene-regulatory network.
This article demonstrates how integrative genomics techniques can be used to investigate novel classes of RNA molecules. Moreover, it represents one of the first examinations of the genetic basis of variation in miRNA gene expression.Our results suggest that miRNA transcript abundances are under more complex regulation than previously observed for mRNA abundances.We also demonstrate that miRNAs typically exist as highly connected hub nodes and function as key sensors within the liver transcriptional network.Additionally, our results provide support for two key hypotheses—namely, that miRNAs can act cooperatively or redundantly to regulate a given pathway, and that miRNAs play a subtle role by dampening expression of their target gene through the use of feedback loops.
Since their discovery less than two decades ago, microRNAs (miRNAs) have repeatedly been shown to play a regulatory role in important biological processes. These small single-stranded molecules have been found to regulate multiple pathways—such as developmental timing in worms; fat metabolism in flies; and stress response in plants—and have been established as key regulatory molecules with potential widespread influence on both fundamental biology and various diseases. In the past decade, a new approach referred to by a number of names (‘integrative genomics', ‘systems genetics' or ‘genetical genomics') has shown increasing levels of success in elucidating the complex relationships found in gene regulatory networks. This approach leverages multiple layers of information (such as genotype, gene expression and phenotype) to infer causal associations that are then used for a number of different purposes, including identifying drivers of diseases and characterizing molecular networks. More importantly, many of the causal relationships that have been identified using this approach have been experimentally tested and verified. By integrating miRNA transcript abundances with messenger RNA (mRNA) expression data and genetic data, we have demonstrated how integrative genomics approaches can be used to characterize the global role played by miRNAs within complex gene regulatory networks. Overall, we investigated approximately 30% of the registered mouse miRNAs with a focus on liver networks. Our analysis reveals that miRNAs exist as highly connected hub nodes and function as key sensors within the gene regulatory network. Further comparisons between the regulatory loci contributing to the variation observed in miRNA and mRNA expression levels indicate that while miRNAs are controlled by more loci than have previously been observed for mRNAs, the contribution from each locus is on average smaller for miRNAs. We also provide evidence supporting two key hypotheses in the field: (i) miRNAs can act cooperatively or redundantly to regulate a given pathway; and (ii) miRNAs may regulate expression of their target gene through the use of feedback loops.
Integrative genomics and genetics approaches have proven to be a useful tool in elucidating the complex relationships often found in gene regulatory networks. More importantly, a number of studies have provided the necessary experimental evidence confirming the validity of the causal relationships inferred using such an approach. By integrating messenger RNA (mRNA) expression data with microRNA (miRNA) (i.e. small non-coding RNA with well-established regulatory roles in a myriad of biological processes) expression data, we show how integrative genomics approaches can be used to characterize the role played by approximately a third of registered mouse miRNAs within the context of a liver gene regulatory network. Our analysis reveals that the transcript abundances of miRNAs are subject to regulatory control by many more loci than previously observed for mRNA expression. Moreover, our results indicate that miRNAs exist as highly connected hub-nodes and function as key sensors within the transcriptional network. We also provide evidence supporting the hypothesis that miRNAs can act cooperatively or redundantly to regulate a given pathway and that miRNAs play a subtle role by dampening expression of their target gene through the use of feedback loops.
PMCID: PMC3130556  PMID: 21613979
causal associations; eQTL mapping; expression QTL; microRNA
19.  RNAi Effector Diversity in Nematodes 
While RNA interference (RNAi) has been deployed to facilitate gene function studies in diverse helminths, parasitic nematodes appear variably susceptible. To test if this is due to inter-species differences in RNAi effector complements, we performed a primary sequence similarity survey for orthologs of 77 Caenorhabditis elegans RNAi pathway proteins in 13 nematode species for which genomic or transcriptomic datasets were available, with all outputs subjected to domain-structure verification. Our dataset spanned transcriptomes of Ancylostoma caninum and Oesophagostomum dentatum, and genomes of Trichinella spiralis, Ascaris suum, Brugia malayi, Haemonchus contortus, Meloidogyne hapla, Meloidogyne incognita and Pristionchus pacificus, as well as the Caenorhabditis species C. brenneri, C. briggsae, C. japonica and C. remanei, and revealed that: (i) Most of the C. elegans proteins responsible for uptake and spread of exogenously applied double stranded (ds)RNA are absent from parasitic species, including RNAi-competent plant-nematodes; (ii) The Argonautes (AGOs) responsible for gene expression regulation in C. elegans are broadly conserved, unlike those recruited during the induction of RNAi by exogenous dsRNA; (iii) Secondary Argonautes (SAGOs) are poorly conserved, and the nuclear AGO NRDE-3 was not identified in any parasite; (iv) All five Caenorhabditis spp. possess an expanded RNAi effector repertoire relative to the parasitic nematodes, consistent with the propensity for gene loss in nematode parasites; (v) In spite of the quantitative differences in RNAi effector complements across nematode species, all displayed qualitatively similar coverage of functional protein groups. In summary, we could not identify RNAi effector deficiencies that associate with reduced susceptibility in parasitic nematodes. Indeed, similarities in the RNAi effector complements of RNAi refractory and competent nematode parasites support the broad applicability of this research genetic tool in nematodes.
Author Summary
Many organisms regulate gene expression through an RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, first characterized in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. This pathway can be triggered experimentally using double-stranded (ds)RNA to selected gene targets, thereby allowing researchers to ‘silence’ individual genes and so investigate their function. It is hoped that this technology will facilitate gene silencing in important parasitic nematodes that impose a considerable health and economic burden on mankind. Unfortunately, differences in RNAi susceptibility have been observed between species. Here we investigated the possibility that differences in the complement of effector proteins involved in the RNAi pathway are responsible for these differences in susceptibility. Our data revealed that most facets of the RNAi pathway are well represented across parasitic nematodes, although there were fewer pathway proteins in other nematodes compared to C. elegans. In contrast, the proteins responsible for uptake and spread of dsRNA are not well represented in parasitic nematodes. However, the importance of these differences is undermined by our observation that the protein complements in all the parasites were qualitatively similar, regardless of RNAi-susceptibility. Clearly, differences in the RNAi pathway of parasitic nematodes do not explain the variations in susceptibility to experimental RNAi.
PMCID: PMC3110158  PMID: 21666793
20.  Global microRNA level regulation of EGFR-driven cell-cycle protein network in breast cancer 
A genome-wide microRNA (miRNome) screen coupled with high-throughput monitoring of protein levels reveals complex, modular miRNA regulation of the EGFR-driven cell-cycle network, and identifies new miRNAs that can suppress breast cancer cell proliferation.
We interrogated, for the first time, a mammalian oncogenic signaling network with the miRNome and report the outputs at the protein level.Whole-genome microRNA (miRNA) effects on a given protein are generally mild, supporting a fine-tuning role for miRNAs, and these effects are dominated by sequence-matching mechanisms.We developed a novel network-analysis methodology with a bipartite graph model to identify proteins co-regulated by miRNAs. Besides the sequence-based mechanism, our results demonstrated that miRNAs simultaneously regulate several proteins belonging to the same functional module.We identified three miRNAs, miR-124, miR-147 and miR-193a-3p, as novel tumor suppressors that co-regulate EGFR-driven cell-cycle network proteins, and inhibit cell-cycle progression and proliferation in breast cancer.Our results demonstrate the potential to steer miRNA research toward the network level, underlining the need for systematic approaches before positioning miRNAs as drugs or drug targets.
The EGFR-driven cell-cycle pathway has been extensively studied due to its pivotal role in breast cancer proliferation and pathogenesis. Although several studies reported regulation of individual pathway components by microRNAs (miRNAs), little is known about how miRNAs coordinate the EGFR protein network on a global miRNA (miRNome) level. Here, we combined a large-scale miRNA screening approach with a high-throughput proteomic readout and network-based data analysis to identify which miRNAs are involved, and to uncover potential regulatory patterns. Our results indicated that the regulation of proteins by miRNAs is dominated by the nucleotide matching mechanism between seed sequences of the miRNAs and 3′-UTR of target genes. Furthermore, the novel network-analysis methodology we developed implied the existence of consistent intrinsic regulatory patterns where miRNAs simultaneously co-regulate several proteins acting in the same functional module. Finally, our approach led us to identify and validate three miRNAs (miR-124, miR-147 and miR-193a-3p) as novel tumor suppressors that co-target EGFR-driven cell-cycle network proteins and inhibit cell-cycle progression and proliferation in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3293631  PMID: 22333974
breast cancer; EGFR signaling; microRNA; miRNA–protein interaction network; network analysis
21.  RNAi Dynamics in Juvenile Fasciola spp. Liver Flukes Reveals the Persistence of Gene Silencing In Vitro 
Fasciola spp. liver fluke cause pernicious disease in humans and animals. Whilst current control is unsustainable due to anthelmintic resistance, gene silencing (RNA interference, RNAi) has the potential to contribute to functional validation of new therapeutic targets. The susceptibility of juvenile Fasciola hepatica to double stranded (ds)RNA-induced RNAi has been reported. To exploit this we probe RNAi dynamics, penetrance and persistence with the aim of building a robust platform for reverse genetics in liver fluke. We describe development of standardised RNAi protocols for a commercially-available liver fluke strain (the US Pacific North West Wild Strain), validated via robust transcriptional silencing of seven virulence genes, with in-depth experimental optimisation of three: cathepsin L (FheCatL) and B (FheCatB) cysteine proteases, and a σ-class glutathione transferase (FheσGST).
Methodology/Principal Findings
Robust transcriptional silencing of targets in both F. hepatica and Fasciola gigantica juveniles is achievable following exposure to long (200–320 nt) dsRNAs or 27 nt short interfering (si)RNAs. Although juveniles are highly RNAi-susceptible, they display slower transcript and protein knockdown dynamics than those reported previously. Knockdown was detectable following as little as 4h exposure to trigger (target-dependent) and in all cases silencing persisted for ≥25 days following long dsRNA exposure. Combinatorial silencing of three targets by mixing multiple long dsRNAs was similarly efficient. Despite profound transcriptional suppression, we found a significant time-lag before the occurrence of protein suppression; FheσGST and FheCatL protein suppression were only detectable after 9 and 21 days, respectively.
In spite of marked variation in knockdown dynamics, we find that a transient exposure to long dsRNA or siRNA triggers robust RNAi penetrance and persistence in liver fluke NEJs supporting the development of multiple-throughput phenotypic screens for control target validation. RNAi persistence in fluke encourages in vivo studies on gene function using worms exposed to RNAi-triggers prior to infection.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) is a method for selectively silencing (or reducing expression of) mRNA transcripts, an approach which can be used to interrogate the function of genes and proteins, and enables the validation of potential targets for anthelmintic drugs or vaccines, by investigating the impact of silencing a particular gene on parasite survival or behaviour. This study focuses on liver fluke parasites, which cause serious disease in both humans and animals. We have only a handful of drugs with which to treat these infections, to which flukes are developing resistance, and no anti-fluke vaccines have yet been developed. New options for treatment and control of liver fluke parasites are sorely needed, and RNAi is a powerful tool in the development of such treatments. This study developed a set of simple methods for triggering RNAi in juvenile liver fluke, which show that although robust transcriptional suppression can be readily achieved across all targets tested, protein suppression occurs only after a target-specific lag period (likely related to protein half-life), which may require >25 days under current in vitro maintenance conditions. These findings are important for researchers aiming to employ RNAi in investigations of liver fluke biology and target validation.
PMCID: PMC4177864  PMID: 25254508
22.  Ago HITS-CLIP Expands Understanding of Kaposi's Sarcoma-associated Herpesvirus miRNA Function in Primary Effusion Lymphomas 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(8):e1002884.
KSHV is the etiological agent of Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), and a subset of multicentricCastleman's disease (MCD). The fact that KSHV-encoded miRNAs are readily detectable in all KSHV-associated tumors suggests a potential role in viral pathogenesis and tumorigenesis. MiRNA-mediated regulation of gene expression is a complex network with each miRNA having many potential targets, and to date only few KSHV miRNA targets have been experimentally determined. A detailed understanding of KSHV miRNA functions requires high-through putribonomics to globally analyze putative miRNA targets in a cell type-specific manner. We performed Ago HITS-CLIP to identify viral and cellular miRNAs and their cognate targets in two latently KSHV-infected PEL cell lines. Ago HITS-CLIP recovered 1170 and 950 cellular KSHVmiRNA targets from BCBL-1 and BC-3, respectively. Importantly, enriched clusters contained KSHV miRNA seed matches in the 3′UTRs of numerous well characterized targets, among them THBS1, BACH1, and C/EBPβ. KSHV miRNA targets were strongly enriched for genes involved in multiple pathways central for KSHV biology, such as apoptosis, cell cycle regulation, lymphocyte proliferation, and immune evasion, thus further supporting a role in KSHV pathogenesis and potentially tumorigenesis. A limited number of viral transcripts were also enriched by HITS-CLIP including vIL-6 expressed only in a subset of PEL cells during latency. Interestingly, Ago HITS-CLIP revealed extremely high levels of Ago-associated KSHV miRNAs especially in BC-3 cells where more than 70% of all miRNAs are of viral origin. This suggests that in addition to seed match-specific targeting of cellular genes, KSHV miRNAs may also function by hijacking RISCs, thereby contributing to a global de-repression of cellular gene expression due to the loss of regulation by human miRNAs. In summary, we provide an extensive list of cellular and viral miRNA targets representing an important resource to decipher KSHV miRNA function.
Author Summary
Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus is the etiological agent of KS and two lymphoproliferative diseases: multicentricCastleman's disease and primary effusion lymphomas (PEL). KSHV tumors are the most prevalent AIDS malignancies and within Sub-Saharan Africa KS is the most common cancer in males, both in the presence and absence of HIV infection. KSHV encodes 12 miRNA genes whose function is largely unknown. Viral miRNAs are incorporated into RISCs, which regulate gene expression mostly by binding to 3′UTRs of mRNAs to inhibit their translation and/or induce degradation. The small subset of viral miRNA targets identified to date suggests that these small posttranscriptional regulators target important cellular pathways involved in pathogenesis and tumorgenesis. Using Ago HITS-CLIP, a technique which combines UV cross-linking, immunoprecipitation of Ago-miRNA-mRNA complexes, and high throughput sequencing, we performed a detailed analysis of the KSHV miRNA targetome in two commonly studied PEL cell lines, BCBL-1 and BC-3 and identified 1170 and 950 putative miRNA targets, respectively. This data set provides a valuable resource to decipher how KSHV miRNAs contribute to viral biology and pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3426530  PMID: 22927820
23.  A comparative study of small RNAs in Toxoplasma gondii of distinct genotypes 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:186.
Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular parasite with a significant impact on human health. Inside the mammalian and avian hosts, the parasite can undergo rapid development or remain inactive in the cysts. The mechanism that regulates parasite proliferation has not been fully understood. Small noncoding RNAs (sncRNA) such as microRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous regulatory factors that can modulate cell differentiation and development. It is anticipated that hundreds of miRNAs regulate the expression of thousands of genes in a single organism. SncRNAs have been identified in T. gondii, however the profiles of sncRNAs expression and their potential regulatory function in parasites of distinct genotypes has largely been unknown.
The transcription profiles of miRNAs in the two genetically distinct strains, RH and ME49, of T. gondii were investigated and compared by a high-through-put RNA sequencing technique and systematic bioinformatics analysis. The expression of some of the miRNAs was confirmed by Northern blot analysis.
1,083,320 unique sequences were obtained. Of which, 17 conserved miRNAs related to 2 metazoan miRNA families and 339 novel miRNAs were identified. A total of 175 miRNAs showed strain-specific expression, of which 155 miRNAs were up-regulated in RH strain and 20 miRNAs were up-regulated in ME49 strain. Strain-specific expression of miRNAs in T. gondii could be due to activation of specific genes at different genomic loci or due to arm-switching of the same pre-miRNA duplex.
Evidence for the differential expression of miRNAs in the two genetically distinct strains of T. gondii has been identified and defined. MiRNAs of T. gondii are more species-specific as compared to other organisms, which can be developed as diagnostic biomarkers for toxoplasmosis. The data also provide a framework for future studies on RNAi-dependent regulatory mechanisms in the zoonotic parasite.
PMCID: PMC3453492  PMID: 22943187
24.  Most Caenorhabditis elegans microRNAs Are Individually Not Essential for Development or Viability 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(12):e215.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs), a large class of short noncoding RNAs found in many plants and animals, often act to post-transcriptionally inhibit gene expression. We report the generation of deletion mutations in 87 miRNA genes in Caenorhabditis elegans, expanding the number of mutated miRNA genes to 95, or 83% of known C. elegans miRNAs. We find that the majority of miRNAs are not essential for the viability or development of C. elegans, and mutations in most miRNA genes do not result in grossly abnormal phenotypes. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that there is significant functional redundancy among miRNAs or among gene pathways regulated by miRNAs. This study represents the first comprehensive genetic analysis of miRNA function in any organism and provides a unique, permanent resource for the systematic study of miRNAs.
Author Summary
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are tiny endogenous RNAs that regulate gene expression in plants and animals. Individual miRNAs have important roles in development, immunity, and cancer. Although the investigation of miRNA function is of great importance, to date few miRNAs have been studied in the intact organism because of a lack of mutants in which specific miRNAs have been inactivated. Here we describe a collection of loss-of-function mutants representing the majority of all known miRNA genes in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. This study identifies a new role for miRNAs in C. elegans and also demonstrates that most miRNAs are not essential for viability or development. Our findings suggest that many miRNAs act redundantly with other miRNAs or other pathways. We expect that this collection of miRNA mutants will become a widely used resource to further our understanding of the biology of miRNAs.
PMCID: PMC2134938  PMID: 18085825
25.  Human miRNA Precursors with Box H/ACA snoRNA Features 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(9):e1000507.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) and small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) are two classes of small non-coding regulatory RNAs, which have been much investigated in recent years. While their respective functions in the cell are distinct, they share interesting genomic similarities, and recent sequencing projects have identified processed forms of snoRNAs that resemble miRNAs. Here, we investigate a possible evolutionary relationship between miRNAs and box H/ACA snoRNAs. A comparison of the genomic locations of reported miRNAs and snoRNAs reveals an overlap of specific members of these classes. To test the hypothesis that some miRNAs might have evolved from snoRNA encoding genomic regions, reported miRNA-encoding regions were scanned for the presence of box H/ACA snoRNA features. Twenty miRNA precursors show significant similarity to H/ACA snoRNAs as predicted by snoGPS. These include molecules predicted to target known ribosomal RNA pseudouridylation sites in vivo for which no guide snoRNA has yet been reported. The predicted folded structures of these twenty H/ACA snoRNA-like miRNA precursors reveal molecules which resemble the structures of known box H/ACA snoRNAs. The genomic regions surrounding these predicted snoRNA-like miRNAs are often similar to regions around snoRNA retroposons, including the presence of transposable elements, target site duplications and poly (A) tails. We further show that the precursors of five H/ACA snoRNA-like miRNAs (miR-151, miR-605, mir-664, miR-215 and miR-140) bind to dyskerin, a specific protein component of functional box H/ACA small nucleolar ribonucleoprotein complexes suggesting that these molecules have retained some H/ACA snoRNA functionality. The detection of small RNA molecules that share features of miRNAs and snoRNAs suggest that these classes of RNA may have an evolutionary relationship.
Author Summary
The major functions known for RNA were long believed to be either messenger RNAs, which function as intermediates between genes and proteins, or ribosomal RNAs and transfer RNAs which carry out the translation process. In recent years, however, newly discovered classes of small RNAs have been shown to play important cellular roles. These include microRNAs (miRNAs), which can regulate the production of specific proteins, and small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), which recognise and chemically modify specific sequences in ribosomal RNA. Although miRNAs and snoRNAs are currently believed to be generated by different cellular pathways and to function in different cellular compartments, members of these two types of small RNAs display numerous genomic similarities, and a small number of snoRNAs have been shown to encode miRNAs in several organisms. Here we systematically investigate a possible evolutionary relationship between snoRNAs and miRNAs. Using computational analysis, we identify twenty genomic regions encoding miRNAs with highly significant similarity to snoRNAs, both on the level of their surrounding genomic context as well as their predicted folded structure. A subset of these miRNAs display functional snoRNA characteristics, strengthening the possibility that these miRNA molecules might have evolved from snoRNAs.
PMCID: PMC2730528  PMID: 19763159

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