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1.  MIR846 and MIR842 comprise a cistronic MIRNA pair that is regulated by abscisic acid by alternative splicing in roots of Arabidopsis 
Plant molecular biology  2013;81(4-5):447-460.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are ~21-nucleotide long endogenous small RNAs that regulate gene expression through post-transcriptional or transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS/TGS) and/or translational inhibition. miRNAs can arise from the “exon” of a MIRNA gene, from an intron (e.g. mirtrons in animals), or from the antisense strand of a protein coding gene (natural antisense microRNAs, nat-miRNAs). Here we demonstrate that two functionally related miRNAs, miR842 and miR846, arise from the same transcription unit but from alternate splicing isoforms. miR846 is expressed only from Isoform1 while in Isoforms2 and -3, a part of pre-miR846 containing the miRNA* sequence is included in the intron. The splicing of the intron truncates the pre-MIRNA and disrupts the expression of the mature miR846.. We name this novel phenomenon splicing-regulated miRNA. Abscisic acid (ABA) is shown to mediate the alternative splicing event by reducing the functional Isoform1 and increasing the non-functional Isoform3, thus repressing the expression of miR846 concomitant with accumulation of an ABA-inducible target jacalin At5g28520 mRNA, whose cleavage was shown by modified 5′-RACE. This regulation shows the functional importance of splicing-regulated miRNA and suggests possible mechanisms for altered ABA response phenotypes of miRNA biogenesis mutants. A. lyrata-MIR842 and Aly-MIR846 have conserved genomic arrangements with A. thaliana and candidate target jacalins, similar primary transcript structures and intron processing, and better miRNA-miRNA* pairings, suggesting that the interactions between ABA, MIR842, MIR846 and jacalins are similar in A. lyrata. Together, splicing-regulated miRNAs, nat-miRNAs/inc-miRNAs and mirtrons illustrate the complexity of MIRNA genes, the importance of introns in the biogenesis and regulation of miRNAs, and raise questions about the processes and molecular mechanisms that drive MIRNA evolution.
PMCID: PMC3581712  PMID: 23341152
alternative splicing; microRNA; root; abscisic acid; plant development; pri-miRNA
2.  Genome organization and characteristics of soybean microRNAs 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:169.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are key regulators of gene expression and play important roles in many aspects of plant biology. The role(s) of miRNAs in nitrogen-fixing root nodules of leguminous plants such as soybean is not well understood. We examined a library of small RNAs from Bradyrhizobium japonicum-inoculated soybean roots and identified novel miRNAs. In order to enhance our understanding of miRNA evolution, diversification and function, we classified all known soybean miRNAs based on their phylogenetic conservation (conserved, legume- and soybean-specific miRNAs) and examined their genome organization, family characteristics and target diversity. We predicted targets of these miRNAs and experimentally validated several of them. We also examined organ-specific expression of selected miRNAs and their targets.
We identified 120 previously unknown miRNA genes from soybean including 5 novel miRNA families. In the soybean genome, genes encoding miRNAs are primarily intergenic and a small percentage were intragenic or less than 1000 bp from a protein-coding gene, suggesting potential co-regulation between the miRNA and its parent gene. Difference in number and orientation of tandemly duplicated miRNA genes between orthologous genomic loci indicated continuous evolution and diversification. Conserved miRNA families are often larger in size and produce less diverse mature miRNAs than legume- and soybean-specific families. In addition, the majority of conserved and legume-specific miRNA families produce 21 nt long mature miRNAs with distinct nucleotide distribution and regulate a more conserved set of target mRNAs compared to soybean-specific families. A set of nodule-specific target mRNAs and their cognate regulatory miRNAs had inverse expression between root and nodule tissues suggesting that spatial restriction of target gene transcripts by miRNAs might govern nodule-specific gene expression in soybean.
Genome organization of soybean miRNAs suggests that they are actively evolving. Distinct family characteristics of soybean miRNAs suggest continuous diversification of function. Inverse organ-specific expression between selected miRNAs and their targets in the roots and nodules, suggested a potential role for these miRNAs in regulating nodule development.
PMCID: PMC3481472  PMID: 22559273
microRNA; Soybean; Genome organization; Evolution; Nodulation
3.  Inter- and intra-combinatorial regulation by transcription factors and microRNAs 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:396.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a novel class of non-coding small RNAs. In mammalian cells, miRNAs repress the translation of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) or degrade mRNAs. miRNAs play important roles in development and differentiation, and they are also implicated in aging, and oncogenesis. Predictions of targets of miRNAs suggest that they may regulate more than one-third of all genes. The overall functions of mammalian miRNAs remain unclear. Combinatorial regulation by transcription factors alone or miRNAs alone offers a wide range of regulatory programs. However, joining transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms enables higher complexity regulatory programs that in turn could give cells evolutionary advantages. Investigating coordinated regulation of genes by miRNAs and transcription factors (TFs) from a statistical standpoint is a first step that may elucidate some of their roles in various biological processes.
Here, we studied the nature and scope of coordination among regulators from the transcriptional and miRNA regulatory layers in the human genome. Our findings are based on genome wide statistical assessment of regulatory associations ("interactions") among the sets of predicted targets of miRNAs and sets of putative targets of transcription factors. We found that combinatorial regulation by transcription factor pairs and miRNA pairs is much more abundant than the combinatorial regulation by TF-miRNA pairs. In addition, many of the strongly interacting TF-miRNA pairs involve a subset of master TF regulators that co-regulate genes in coordination with almost any miRNA. Application of standard measures for evaluating the degree of interaction between pairs of regulators show that strongly interacting TF-miRNA, TF-TF or miRNA-miRNA pairs tend to include TFs or miRNAs that regulate very large numbers of genes. To correct for this potential bias we introduced an additional Bayesian measure that incorporates not only how significant an interaction is but also how strong it is. Putative pairs of regulators selected by this procedure are more likely to have biological coordination. Importantly, we found that the probability of a TF-miRNA pair forming feed forward loops with its common target genes (where the miRNA simultaneously suppresses the TF and many of its targets) is increased for strongly interacting TF-miRNA pairs.
Genes are more likely to be co-regulated by pairs of TFs or pairs of miRNAs than by pairs of TF-miRNA, perhaps due to higher probability of evolutionary duplication events of shorter DNA sequences. Nevertheless, many gene sets are reciprocally regulated by strongly interacting pairs of TF-miRNA, which suggests an effective mechanism to suppress functionally related proteins. Moreover, the particular type of feed forward loop (with two opposing modes where the TF activates its target genes or the miRNA simultaneously suppresses this TF and the TF-miRNA joint target genes) is more prevalent among strongly interacting TF-miRNA pairs. This may be attributed to a process that prevents waste of cellular resources or a mechanism to accelerate mRNA degradation.
PMCID: PMC2206040  PMID: 17971223
4.  Drosha Promotes Splicing of a Pre-microRNA-like Alternative Exon 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(5):e1004312.
The ribonuclease III enzyme Drosha has a central role in the biogenesis of microRNA (miRNA) by binding and cleaving hairpin structures in primary RNA transcripts into precursor miRNAs (pre-miRNAs). Many miRNA genes are located within protein-coding host genes and cleaved by Drosha in a manner that is coincident with splicing of introns by the spliceosome. The close proximity of splicing and pre-miRNA biogenesis suggests a potential for co-regulation of miRNA and host gene expression, though this relationship is not completely understood. Here, we describe a cleavage-independent role for Drosha in the splicing of an exon that has a predicted hairpin structure resembling a Drosha substrate. We find that Drosha can cleave the alternatively spliced exon 5 of the eIF4H gene into a pre-miRNA both in vitro and in cells. However, the primary role of Drosha in eIF4H gene expression is to promote the splicing of exon 5. Drosha binds to the exon and enhances splicing in a manner that depends on RNA structure but not on cleavage by Drosha. We conclude that Drosha can function like a splicing enhancer and promote exon inclusion. Our results reveal a new mechanism of alternative splicing regulation involving a cleavage-independent role for Drosha in splicing.
Author Summary
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs that function in gene silencing and are produced by cleavage from a larger primary RNA transcript through a reaction that is carried out by the Microprocessor. Primary miRNA transcripts are often located within the introns of genes. Thus, both the Microprocessor and the spliceosome, which is responsible for pre-mRNA splicing, interact with the same sequences, though little is known about how these two processes influence each other. In this study, we discovered that the alternatively spliced eIF4H exon 5 is predicted to form an RNA hairpin that resembles a Microprocessor substrate. We found that the Microprocessor can bind and cleave exon 5, which precludes inclusion of the exon in the mRNA. However, we find that Drosha, a component of the Microprocessor, primarily functions to enhance exon 5 splicing both in vitro and in cells, rather than to cleave the RNA. Our results suggest that the Microprocessor has a role in splicing that is distinct from its role in miRNA biogenesis. This Microprocessor activity represents a new function for the complex that may be an important mechanism for regulating alternative splicing.
PMCID: PMC4006729  PMID: 24786770
5.  Feed-Forward Microprocessing and Splicing Activities at a MicroRNA–Containing Intron 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(10):e1002330.
The majority of mammalian microRNA (miRNA) genes reside within introns of protein-encoding and non-coding genes, yet the mechanisms coordinating primary transcript processing into both mature miRNA and spliced mRNA are poorly understood. Analysis of melanoma invasion suppressor miR-211 expressed from intron 6 of melastatin revealed that microprocessing of miR-211 promotes splicing of the exon 6–exon 7 junction of melastatin by a mechanism requiring the RNase III activity of Drosha. Additionally, mutations in the 5′ splice site (5′SS), but not in the 3′SS, branch point, or polypyrimidine tract of intron 6 reduced miR-211 biogenesis and Drosha recruitment to intron 6, indicating that 5′SS recognition by the spliceosome promotes microprocessing of miR-211. Globally, knockdown of U1 splicing factors reduced intronic miRNA expression. Our data demonstrate novel mutually-cooperative microprocessing and splicing activities at an intronic miRNA locus and suggest that the initiation of spliceosome assembly may promote microprocessing of intronic miRNAs.
Author Summary
MicroRNA (miRNA) genes are transcribed as long primary RNAs containing local hairpins that are excised by the Microprocessor complex minimally composed of Drosha and DGCR8. Most mammalian miRNAs reside in introns of protein-encoding and non-coding genes, but it is unclear how microprocessing of an intronic miRNA and splicing at the host gene intron affect each other. We recently reported that in melanoma, a miRNA expressed from intron 6 of melastatin (miR-211) assumes the tumor suppressive function of its host gene. In our current work, we detected elevated melastatin exon 6–exon 7 junctions relative to other exon-exon junctions that lack intronic miRNAs, suggesting that microprocessing promotes splicing. We show that microprocessing of miR-211 precedes completion of splicing of the exon 6–exon 7 junctions and that Drosha's endonuclease activity is required to facilitate exon 6–exon 7 junction formation. Additionally, we found that the first step of spliceosome assembly, recognition of the 5′ splice site by the U1 snRNP complex, promotes microprocessing of miR-211 and other intronic but not intergenic miRNAs. Our findings reveal a mutually cooperative, physical, and functional coupling of intronic miRNA biogenesis and splicing at the host intron, and they suggest a global positive effect of spliceosome assembly on intronic miRNA microprocessing.
PMCID: PMC3197686  PMID: 22028668
6.  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
7.  Genome-Wide Identification and Comparative Analysis of Conserved and Novel MicroRNAs in Grafted Watermelon by High-Throughput Sequencing 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57359.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of endogenous small non-coding RNAs involved in the post-transcriptional gene regulation and play a critical role in plant growth, development and stresses response. However less is known about miRNAs involvement in grafting behaviors, especially with the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus L.) crop, which is one of the most important agricultural crops worldwide. Grafting method is commonly used in watermelon production in attempts to improve its adaptation to abiotic and biotic stresses, in particular to the soil-borne fusarium wilt disease. In this study, Solexa sequencing has been used to discover small RNA populations and compare miRNAs on genome-wide scale in watermelon grafting system. A total of 11,458,476, 11,614,094 and 9,339,089 raw reads representing 2,957,751, 2,880,328 and 2,964,990 unique sequences were obtained from the scions of self-grafted watermelon and watermelon grafted on-to bottle gourd and squash at two true-leaf stage, respectively. 39 known miRNAs belonging to 30 miRNA families and 80 novel miRNAs were identified in our small RNA dataset. Compared with self-grafted watermelon, 20 (5 known miRNA families and 15 novel miRNAs) and 47 (17 known miRNA families and 30 novel miRNAs) miRNAs were expressed significantly different in watermelon grafted on to bottle gourd and squash, respectively. MiRNAs expressed differentially when watermelon was grafted onto different rootstocks, suggesting that miRNAs might play an important role in diverse biological and metabolic processes in watermelon and grafting may possibly by changing miRNAs expressions to regulate plant growth and development as well as adaptation to stresses. The small RNA transcriptomes obtained in this study provided insights into molecular aspects of miRNA-mediated regulation in grafted watermelon. Obviously, this result would provide a basis for further unravelling the mechanism on how miRNAs information is exchanged between scion and rootstock in grafted watermelon, and its relevance to diverse biological processes and environmental adaptation.
PMCID: PMC3582568  PMID: 23468976
8.  Intragenomic Matching Reveals a Huge Potential for miRNA-Mediated Regulation in Plants 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(11):e238.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are important post-transcriptional regulators, but the extent of this regulation is uncertain, both with regard to the number of miRNA genes and their targets. Using an algorithm based on intragenomic matching of potential miRNAs and their targets coupled with support vector machine classification of miRNA precursors, we explore the potential for regulation by miRNAs in three plant genomes: Arabidopsis thaliana, Populus trichocarpa, and Oryza sativa. We find that the intragenomic matching in conjunction with a supervised learning approach contains enough information to allow reliable computational prediction of miRNA candidates without requiring conservation across species. Using this method, we identify ∼1,200, ∼2,500, and ∼2,100 miRNA candidate genes capable of extensive base-pairing to potential target mRNAs in A. thaliana, P. trichocarpa, and O. sativa, respectively. This is more than five times the number of currently annotated miRNAs in the plants. Many of these candidates are derived from repeat regions, yet they seem to contain the features necessary for correct processing by the miRNA machinery. Conservation analysis indicates that only a few of the candidates are conserved between the species. We conclude that there is a large potential for miRNA-mediated regulatory interactions encoded in the genomes of the investigated plants. We hypothesize that some of these interactions may be realized under special environmental conditions, while others can readily be recruited when organisms diverge and adapt to new niches.
Author Summary
microRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNA molecules that regulate gene expression by complementary basepairing to mRNAs. In plants, this base-pairing is almost perfect along the whole length of miRNAs. This long stretch of complementarity makes it relatively easy to make computational predictions of the targets for known miRNAs. To predict novel miRNA genes, we take advantage of this and reverse the target prediction: instead of predicting targets for known miRNAs, we predict novel miRNA candidates for all known mRNAs. Because matching between target and miRNA candidates is integral to the method, it is possible to achieve good predictions without having to rely on evolutionary conservation, as most other current methods do. This means that we can predict new miRNAs that are specific to an organism. Interestingly, this could help explain the difference between species that have very similar protein-coding genes, but highly different phenotypes. Furthermore, it turns out that many of these new miRNA candidates derive from genomic repeat regions such as transposons, which points to a possible active role for repeats/transposons in the regulation of gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2098865  PMID: 18052543
9.  Features of Mammalian microRNA Promoters Emerge from Polymerase II Chromatin Immunoprecipitation Data 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5279.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, non-coding RNA regulators of protein coding genes. miRNAs play a very important role in diverse biological processes and various diseases. Many algorithms are able to predict miRNA genes and their targets, but their transcription regulation is still under investigation. It is generally believed that intragenic miRNAs (located in introns or exons of protein coding genes) are co-transcribed with their host genes and most intergenic miRNAs transcribed from their own RNA polymerase II (Pol II) promoter. However, the length of the primary transcripts and promoter organization is currently unknown.
We performed Pol II chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-chip using a custom array surrounding regions of known miRNA genes. To identify the true core transcription start sites of the miRNA genes we developed a new tool (CPPP). We showed that miRNA genes can be transcribed from promoters located several kilobases away and that their promoters share the same general features as those of protein coding genes. Finally, we found evidence that as many as 26% of the intragenic miRNAs may be transcribed from their own unique promoters.
miRNA promoters have similar features to those of protein coding genes, but miRNA transcript organization is more complex.
PMCID: PMC2668758  PMID: 19390574
10.  LIN-42, the Caenorhabditis elegans PERIOD homolog, Negatively Regulates MicroRNA Transcription 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(7):e1004486.
During C. elegans development, microRNAs (miRNAs) function as molecular switches that define temporal gene expression and cell lineage patterns in a dosage-dependent manner. It is critical, therefore, that the expression of miRNAs be tightly regulated so that target mRNA expression is properly controlled. The molecular mechanisms that function to optimize or control miRNA levels during development are unknown. Here we find that mutations in lin-42, the C. elegans homolog of the circadian-related period gene, suppress multiple dosage-dependent miRNA phenotypes including those involved in developmental timing and neuronal cell fate determination. Analysis of mature miRNA levels in lin-42 mutants indicates that lin-42 functions to attenuate miRNA expression. Through the analysis of transcriptional reporters, we show that the upstream cis-acting regulatory regions of several miRNA genes are sufficient to promote highly dynamic transcription that is coupled to the molting cycles of post-embryonic development. Immunoprecipitation of LIN-42 complexes indicates that LIN-42 binds the putative cis-regulatory regions of both non-coding and protein-coding genes and likely plays a role in regulating their transcription. Consistent with this hypothesis, analysis of miRNA transcriptional reporters in lin-42 mutants indicates that lin-42 regulates miRNA transcription. Surprisingly, strong loss-of-function mutations in lin-42 do not abolish the oscillatory expression patterns of lin-4 and let-7 transcription but lead to increased expression of these genes. We propose that lin-42 functions to negatively regulate the transcriptional output of multiple miRNAs and mRNAs and therefore coordinates the expression levels of genes that dictate temporal cell fate with other regulatory programs that promote rhythmic gene expression.
Author Summary
MicroRNAs play pervasive roles in controlling gene expression throughout animal development. Given that individual microRNAs are predicted to regulate hundreds of mRNAs and that most mRNA transcripts are microRNA targets, it is essential that the expression levels of microRNAs be tightly regulated. With the goal of unveiling factors that regulate the expression of microRNAs that control developmental timing, we identified lin-42, the C. elegans homolog of the human and Drosophila period gene implicated in circadian gene regulation, as a negative regulator of microRNA expression. By analyzing the transcriptional expression patterns of representative microRNAs, we found that the transcription of many microRNAs is normally highly dynamic and coupled aspects of post-embryonic growth and behavior. We suggest that lin-42 functions to modulate the transcriptional output of temporally-regulated microRNAs and mRNAs in order to maintain optimal expression of these genes throughout development.
PMCID: PMC4102445  PMID: 25032706
11.  Auto-regulation of miRNA biogenesis by let-7 and Argonaute 
Nature  2012;486(7404):541-544.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) comprise a large family of small RNA molecules that post-transcriptionally regulate gene expression in many biological pathways1. Most miRNAs are derived from long primary transcripts that undergo processing by Drosha to produce ~65 nucleotide (nt) precursors that are then cleaved by Dicer, resulting in the mature 22 nt forms2,3. Serving as guides in Argonaute protein complexes, mature miRNAs use imperfect base-pairing to recognize sequences in mRNA transcripts, leading to translational repression and destabilization of the target mRNAs4,5. Here we show that the miRNA complex also targets and regulates non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) that serve as substrates for the miRNA processing pathway. We found that the C. elegans Argonaute, ALG-1, binds to a specific site at the 3′ end of let-7 miRNA primary transcripts and promotes downstream processing events. This interaction is mediated by mature let-7 miRNA via a conserved complementary site in its own primary transcript, thus creating a positive feedback loop. We further show that ALG-1 associates with let-7 primary transcripts in nuclear fractions. Argonaute also binds let-7 primary transcripts in human cells, demonstrating that the miRNA pathway targets non-coding RNAs in addition to protein-coding mRNAs across species. Moreover, our studies in C. elegans reveal a novel role for Argonaute in promoting biogenesis of a targeted transcript, expanding the functions of the miRNA pathway in gene regulation. This discovery of auto-regulation of let-7 biogenesis sets a new paradigm for controlling miRNA expression.
PMCID: PMC3387326  PMID: 22722835
12.  A Collection of Target Mimics for Comprehensive Analysis of MicroRNA Function in Arabidopsis thaliana 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(7):e1001031.
Many targets of plant microRNAs (miRNAs) are thought to play important roles in plant physiology and development. However, because plant miRNAs are typically encoded by medium-size gene families, it has often been difficult to assess their precise function. We report the generation of a large-scale collection of knockdowns for Arabidopsis thaliana miRNA families; this has been achieved using artificial miRNA target mimics, a recently developed technique fashioned on an endogenous mechanism of miRNA regulation. Morphological defects in the aerial part were observed for ∼20% of analyzed families, all of which are deeply conserved in land plants. In addition, we find that non-cleavable mimic sites can confer translational regulation in cis. Phenotypes of plants expressing target mimics directed against miRNAs involved in development were in several cases consistent with previous reports on plants expressing miRNA–resistant forms of individual target genes, indicating that a limited number of targets mediates most effects of these miRNAs. That less conserved miRNAs rarely had obvious effects on plant morphology suggests that most of them do not affect fundamental aspects of development. In addition to insight into modes of miRNA action, this study provides an important resource for the study of miRNA function in plants.
Author Summary
MiRNAs are small RNA molecules that play an important role in regulating gene function, both in animals and in plants. In plants, miRNA target mimicry is an endogenous mechanism used to negatively regulate the activity of a specific miRNA family, through the production of a false target transcript that cannot be cleaved. This mechanism can be engineered to target different miRNA families. Using this technique, we have generated artificial target mimics predicted to reduce the activity of most of the miRNA families in Arabidopsis thaliana and have observed their effects on plant development. We found that deeply conserved miRNAs tend to have a strong impact on plant growth, while more recently evolved ones had generally less obvious effects, suggesting either that they primarily affect processes other than development, or else that they have more subtle or conditional functions or are even dispensable. In several cases, the effects on plant development that we observed closely resembled those seen in plants expressing miRNA–resistant versions of the major predicted targets, indicating that a limited number of targets mediates most effects of these miRNAs. Analyses of mimic expressing plants also support that plant miRNAs affect both transcript stability and protein accumulation. The artificial target mimic collection will be a useful resource to further investigate the function of individual miRNA families.
PMCID: PMC2908682  PMID: 20661442
13.  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
14.  MicroRNAs in bovine adipogenesis: genomic context, expression and function 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:137.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs found to regulate several biological processes including adipogenesis. Understanding adipose tissue regulation is critical for beef cattle as fat is an important determinant of beef quality and nutrient value. This study analyzed the association between genomic context characteristics of miRNAs with their expression and function in bovine adipose tissue. Twenty-four subcutaneous adipose tissue biopsies were obtained from eight British-continental crossbred steers at 3 different time points. Total RNA was extracted and miRNAs were profiled using a miRNA microarray with expression further validated by qRT-PCR.
A total of 224 miRNAs were detected of which 155 were expressed in all steers (n = 8), and defined as the core miRNAs of bovine subcutaneous adipose tissue. Core adipose miRNAs varied in terms of genomic location (59.5% intergenic, 38.7% intronic, 1.2% exonic, and 0.6% mirtron), organization (55.5% non-clustered and 44.5% clustered), and conservation (49% highly conserved, 14% conserved and 37% poorly conserved). Clustered miRNAs and highly conserved miRNAs were more highly expressed (p < 0.05) and had more predicted targets than non-clustered or less conserved miRNAs (p < 0.001). A total of 34 miRNAs were coordinately expressed, being part of six identified relevant networks. Two intronic miRNAs (miR-33a and miR-1281) were confirmed to have coordinated expression with their host genes, transcriptional factor SREBF2 and EP300 (a transcriptional co-activator of transcriptional factor C/EBPα), respectively which are involved in lipid metabolism, suggesting these miRNAs may also play a role in regulation of bovine lipid metabolism/adipogenesis. Furthermore, a total of 17 bovine specific miRNAs were predicted to be involved in the regulation of energy balance in adipose tissue.
These findings improve our understanding on the behavior of miRNAs in the regulation of bovine adipogenesis and fat metabolism as it reveals that miRNA expression patterns and functions are associated with miRNA genomic location, organization and conservation.
PMCID: PMC3930007  PMID: 24548287
Adipogenesis; Adipose tissue; Bovine; Fat metabolism; Genomic context; microRNA; Cluster; Co-expression; Species specific
15.  The Silkworm (Bombyx mori) microRNAs and Their Expressions in Multiple Developmental Stages 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(8):e2997.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play crucial roles in various physiological processes through post-transcriptional regulation of gene expressions and are involved in development, metabolism, and many other important molecular mechanisms and cellular processes. The Bombyx mori genome sequence provides opportunities for a thorough survey for miRNAs as well as comparative analyses with other sequenced insect species.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We identified 114 non-redundant conserved miRNAs and 148 novel putative miRNAs from the B. mori genome with an elaborate computational protocol. We also sequenced 6,720 clones from 14 developmental stage-specific small RNA libraries in which we identified 35 unique miRNAs containing 21 conserved miRNAs (including 17 predicted miRNAs) and 14 novel miRNAs (including 11 predicted novel miRNAs). Among the 114 conserved miRNAs, we found six pairs of clusters evolutionarily conserved cross insect lineages. Our observations on length heterogeneity at 5′ and/or 3′ ends of nine miRNAs between cloned and predicted sequences, and three mature forms deriving from the same arm of putative pre-miRNAs suggest a mechanism by which miRNAs gain new functions. Analyzing development-related miRNAs expression at 14 developmental stages based on clone-sampling and stem-loop RT PCR, we discovered an unusual abundance of 33 sequences representing 12 different miRNAs and sharply fluctuated expression of miRNAs at larva-molting stage. The potential functions of several stage-biased miRNAs were also analyzed in combination with predicted target genes and silkworm's phenotypic traits; our results indicated that miRNAs may play key regulatory roles in specific developmental stages in the silkworm, such as ecdysis.
Taking a combined approach, we identified 118 conserved miRNAs and 151 novel miRNA candidates from the B. mori genome sequence. Our expression analyses by sampling miRNAs and real-time PCR over multiple developmental stages allowed us to pinpoint molting stages as hotspots of miRNA expression both in sorts and quantities. Based on the analysis of target genes, we hypothesized that miRNAs regulate development through a particular emphasis on complex stages rather than general regulatory mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2500172  PMID: 18714353
16.  Development-associated microRNAs in grains of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) 
BMC Plant Biology  2013;13:140.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of regulatory small RNAs (sRNAs) that down-regulate target genes by mRNA degradation or translational repression. Numerous plant miRNAs have been identified. Evidence is increasing for their crucial roles during plant development. In the globally important crop of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), the process by which grains are formed determines yield and end-use quality. However, little is known about miRNA-mediated developmental regulation of grain production. Here, we applied high-throughput sRNA sequencing and genome-wide mining to identify miRNAs potentially involved in the developmental regulation of wheat grains.
Four sRNA libraries were generated and sequenced from developing grains sampled at 5, 15, 25, and 30 days after pollination (DAP). Through integrative analysis, we identified 605 miRNAs (representing 540 families) and found that 86 are possibly involved in the control of grain-filling. Additionally, 268 novel miRNAs (182 families) were identified, with 18 of them also potentially related to that maturation process. Our target predictions indicated that the 104 grain filling-associated miRNAs might target a set of wheat genes involved in various biological processes, including the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins, transcription, cellular transport, cell organization and biogenesis, stress responses, signal transduction, and phytohormone signaling. Together, these results demonstrate that the developmental steps by which wheat grains are filled is correlated with miRNA-mediated gene regulatory networks.
We identified 605 conserved and 268 novel miRNAs from wheat grains. Of these, 104 are potentially involved in the regulation of grain-filling. Our dataset provides a useful resource for investigating miRNA-mediated regulatory mechanisms in cereal grains, and our results suggest that miRNAs contribute to this regulation during a crucial phase in determining grain yield and flour quality.
PMCID: PMC4015866  PMID: 24060047
MicroRNA; Grain development; Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)
17.  The roles of binding site arrangement and combinatorial targeting in microRNA repression of gene expression 
Genome Biology  2007;8(8):R166.
A genome wide analysis of factors affecting repression of mRNAs by microRNAs reveals roles for 3'UTR length, the number of target sites on the mRNA and the distance between pairs of binding sites.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that bind mRNA target transcripts and repress gene expression. They have been implicated in multiple diseases, such as cancer, but the mechanisms of this involvement are not well understood. Given the complexity and degree of interactions between miRNAs and target genes, understanding how miRNAs achieve their specificity is important to understanding miRNA function and identifying their role in disease.
Here we report factors that influence miRNA regulation by considering the effects of both single and multiple miRNAs targeting human genes. In the case of single miRNA targeting, we developed a metric that integrates miRNA and mRNA expression data to calculate how changes in miRNA expression affect target mRNA expression. Using the metric, our global analysis shows that the repression of a given miRNA on a target mRNA is modulated by 3' untranslated region length, the number of target sites, and the distance between a pair of binding sites. Additionally, we show that some miRNAs preferentially repress transcripts with longer CTG repeats, suggesting a possible role for miRNAs in repeat expansion disorders such as myotonic dystrophy. We also examine the large class of genes targeted by multiple miRNAs and show that specific types of genes are progressively more enriched as the number of targeting miRNAs increases. Expression microarray data further show that these highly targeted genes are downregulated relative to genes targeted by few miRNAs, which suggests that highly targeted genes are tightly regulated and that their dysregulation may lead to disease. In support of this idea, cancer genes are strongly enriched among highly targeted genes.
Our data show that the rules governing miRNA targeting are complex, but that understanding the mechanisms that drive such control can uncover miRNAs' role in disease. Our study suggests that the number and arrangement of miRNA recognition sites can influence the degree and specificity of miRNA-mediated gene repression.
PMCID: PMC2374997  PMID: 17697356
18.  Functional Analysis of Neuronal MicroRNAs in Caenorhabditis elegans Dauer Formation by Combinational Genetics and Neuronal miRISC Immunoprecipitation 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003592.
Identifying the physiological functions of microRNAs (miRNAs) is often challenging because miRNAs commonly impact gene expression under specific physiological conditions through complex miRNA::mRNA interaction networks and in coordination with other means of gene regulation, such as transcriptional regulation and protein degradation. Such complexity creates difficulties in dissecting miRNA functions through traditional genetic methods using individual miRNA mutations. To investigate the physiological functions of miRNAs in neurons, we combined a genetic “enhancer” approach complemented by biochemical analysis of neuronal miRNA-induced silencing complexes (miRISCs) in C. elegans. Total miRNA function can be compromised by mutating one of the two GW182 proteins (AIN-1), an important component of miRISC. We found that combining an ain-1 mutation with a mutation in unc-3, a neuronal transcription factor, resulted in an inappropriate entrance into the stress-induced, alternative larval stage known as dauer, indicating a role of miRNAs in preventing aberrant dauer formation. Analysis of this genetic interaction suggests that neuronal miRNAs perform such a role partly by regulating endogenous cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) signaling, potentially influencing two other dauer-regulating pathways. Through tissue-specific immunoprecipitations of miRISC, we identified miRNAs and their likely target mRNAs within neuronal tissue. We verified the biological relevance of several of these miRNAs and found that many miRNAs likely regulate dauer formation through multiple dauer-related targets. Further analysis of target mRNAs suggests potential miRNA involvement in various neuronal processes, but the importance of these miRNA::mRNA interactions remains unclear. Finally, we found that neuronal genes may be more highly regulated by miRNAs than intestinal genes. Overall, our study identifies miRNAs and their targets, and a physiological function of these miRNAs in neurons. It also suggests that compromising other aspects of gene expression, along with miRISC, can be an effective approach to reveal miRNA functions in specific tissues under specific physiological conditions.
Author Summary
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important in the regulation of gene expression and are present in many organisms. To identify specific biological processes that are regulated by miRNAs, we disturbed total miRNA function under a certain genetic background and searched for defects. Interestingly, we found a prominent developmental defect that was dependent on a mutation in another gene involved in regulating transcription in neurons. Thus, by compromising two different aspects of gene regulation, we were able to identify a specific biological function of miRNAs. By investigating this defect, we determined that neuronal miRNAs likely function to help modulate cyclic guanosine monophosphate signaling. We then took a systematic approach and identified many miRNAs and genes that are likely to be regulated by neuronal miRNAs, and in doing so, we found genes involved in the initial defect. Additionally, we found many other genes, and show that genes expressed in neurons seem to be more regulated by miRNAs than genes in the intestine. Through our study, we identify a biological function of neuronal miRNAs and provide data that will help in identifying other important, novel, and exciting roles of this important class of small RNAs.
PMCID: PMC3688502  PMID: 23818874
19.  MiRNA-Directed Regulation of VEGF and Other Angiogenic Factors under Hypoxia 
PLoS ONE  2006;1(1):e116.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of 20–24 nt non-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression primarily through post-transcriptional repression or mRNA degradation in a sequence-specific manner. The roles of miRNAs are just beginning to be understood, but the study of miRNA function has been limited by poor understanding of the general principles of gene regulation by miRNAs. Here we used CNE cells from a human nasopharyngeal carcinoma cell line as a cellular system to investigate miRNA-directed regulation of VEGF and other angiogenic factors under hypoxia, and to explore the principles of gene regulation by miRNAs. Through computational analysis, 96 miRNAs were predicted as putative regulators of VEGF. But when we analyzed the miRNA expression profile of CNE and four other VEGF-expressing cell lines, we found that only some of these miRNAs could be involved in VEGF regulation, and that VEGF may be regulated by different miRNAs that were differentially chosen from 96 putative regulatory miRNAs of VEGF in different cells. Some of these miRNAs also co-regulate other angiogenic factors (differential regulation and co-regulation principle). We also found that VEGF was regulated by multiple miRNAs using different combinations, including both coordinate and competitive interactions. The coordinate principle states that miRNAs with independent binding sites in a gene can produce coordinate action to increase the repressive effect of miRNAs on this gene. By contrast, the competitive principle states when multiple miRNAs compete with each other for a common binding site, or when a functional miRNA competes with a false positive miRNA for the same binding site, the repressive effects of miRNAs may be decreased. Through the competitive principle, false positive miRNAs, which cannot directly repress gene expression, can sometimes play a role in miRNA-mediated gene regulation. The competitive principle, differential regulation, multi-miRNA binding sites, and false positive miRNAs might be useful strategies in the avoidance of unwanted cross-action among genes targeted by miRNAs with multiple targets.
PMCID: PMC1762435  PMID: 17205120
20.  Uncovering MicroRNA and Transcription Factor Mediated Regulatory Networks in Glioblastoma 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(7):e1002488.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and lethal brain tumor in humans. Recent studies revealed that patterns of microRNA (miRNA) expression in GBM tissue samples are different from those in normal brain tissues, suggesting that a number of miRNAs play critical roles in the pathogenesis of GBM. However, little is yet known about which miRNAs play central roles in the pathology of GBM and their regulatory mechanisms of action. To address this issue, in this study, we systematically explored the main regulation format (feed-forward loops, FFLs) consisting of miRNAs, transcription factors (TFs) and their impacting GBM-related genes, and developed a computational approach to construct a miRNA-TF regulatory network. First, we compiled GBM-related miRNAs, GBM-related genes, and known human TFs. We then identified 1,128 3-node FFLs and 805 4-node FFLs with statistical significance. By merging these FFLs together, we constructed a comprehensive GBM-specific miRNA-TF mediated regulatory network. Then, from the network, we extracted a composite GBM-specific regulatory network. To illustrate the GBM-specific regulatory network is promising for identification of critical miRNA components, we specifically examined a Notch signaling pathway subnetwork. Our follow up topological and functional analyses of the subnetwork revealed that six miRNAs (miR-124, miR-137, miR-219-5p, miR-34a, miR-9, and miR-92b) might play important roles in GBM, including some results that are supported by previous studies. In this study, we have developed a computational framework to construct a miRNA-TF regulatory network and generated the first miRNA-TF regulatory network for GBM, providing a valuable resource for further understanding the complex regulatory mechanisms in GBM. The observation of critical miRNAs in the Notch signaling pathway, with partial verification from previous studies, demonstrates that our network-based approach is promising for the identification of new and important miRNAs in GBM and, potentially, other cancers.
Author Summary
Several recent studies have implicated the critical role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the pathogenesis of glioblastoma (GBM), the most common and lethal brain tumor in humans, suggesting that miRNAs may be clinically useful as biomarkers for brain tumors and other cancers. However, to date, the regulatory mechanisms of miRNAs in GBM are unclear. In this study, we have systematically constructed miRNA and transcription factor (TF) mediated regulatory networks specific to GBM. To demonstrate that the GBM-specific regulatory network contains functional modules that may composite of critical miRNA components, we extracted a subnetwork including GBM-related genes involved in the Notch signaling pathway. Through network topological and functional analyses of the Notch signaling pathway subnetwork, several critical miRNAs have been identified, some of which have been reinforced by previous studies. This study not only provides novel miRNAs for further experimental design but also develops a novel computational framework to construct a miRNA-TF combinatory regulatory network for a specific disease.
PMCID: PMC3400583  PMID: 22829753
21.  Supplemental carnitine affects the microRNA expression profile in skeletal muscle of obese Zucker rats 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):512.
In the past, numerous studies revealed that supplementation with carnitine has multiple effects on performance characteristics and gene expression in livestock and model animals. The molecular mechanisms underlying these observations are still largely unknown. Increasing evidence suggests that microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of small non-coding RNA molecules, play an important role in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression and thereby influencing several physiological and pathological processes. Based on these findings, the aim of the present study was to investigate the influence of carnitine supplementation on the miRNA expression profile in skeletal muscle of obese Zucker rats using miRNA microarray analysis.
Obese Zucker rats supplemented with carnitine had higher concentrations of total carnitine in plasma and muscle than obese control rats (P < 0.05). miRNA expression profiling in skeletal muscle revealed a subset of 152 miRNAs out of the total number of miRNAs analysed (259) were identified to be differentially regulated (adjusted P-value < 0.05) by carnitine supplementation. Compared to the obese control group, 111 miRNAs were up-regulated and 41 down-regulated by carnitine supplementation (adjusted P-value < 0.05). 14 of these miRNAs showed a log2 ratio ≥ 0.5 and 7 miRNAs showed a log2 ratio ≤ −0.5 (adjusted P-value < 0.05). After confirmation by qRT-PCR, 11 miRNAs were found to be up-regulated and 6 miRNAs were down-regulated by carnitine supplementation (P < 0.05). Furthermore, a total of 1,446 target genes within the validated miRNAs were revealed using combined three bioinformatic algorithms. Analysis of Gene Ontology (GO) categories and KEGG pathways of the predicted targets revealed that carnitine supplementation regulates miRNAs that target a large set of genes involved in protein-localization and -transport, regulation of transcription and RNA metabolic processes, as well as genes involved in several signal transduction pathways, like ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis and longterm depression, are targeted by the miRNAs regulated by carnitine supplementation.
The present study shows for the first time that supplementation of carnitine affects a large set of miRNAs in skeletal muscle of obese Zucker rats suggesting a novel mechanism through which carnitine exerts its multiple effects on gene expression, which were observed during the past.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-512) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4078242  PMID: 24952657
Carnitine; microRNA expression profile; Microarray; Skeletal muscle; Obese Zucker rat
22.  Identification of miRNAs and their target genes in developing maize ears by combined small RNA and degradome sequencing 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:25.
In plants, microRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous ~22 nt RNAs that play important regulatory roles in many aspects of plant biology, including metabolism, hormone response, epigenetic control of transposable elements, and stress response. Extensive studies of miRNAs have been performed in model plants such as rice and Arabidopsis thaliana. In maize, most miRNAs and their target genes were analyzed and identified by clearly different treatments, such as response to low nitrate, salt and drought stress. However, little is known about miRNAs involved in maize ear development. The objective of this study is to identify conserved and novel miRNAs and their target genes by combined small RNA and degradome sequencing at four inflorescence developmental stages.
We used deep-sequencing, miRNA microarray assays and computational methods to identify, profile, and describe conserved and non-conserved miRNAs at four ear developmental stages, which resulted in identification of 22 conserved and 21-maize-specific miRNA families together with their corresponding miRNA*. Comparison of miRNA expression in these developmental stages revealed 18 differentially expressed miRNA families. Finally, a total of 141 genes (251 transcripts) targeted by 102 small RNAs including 98 miRNAs and 4 ta-siRNAs were identified by genomic-scale high-throughput sequencing of miRNA cleaved mRNAs. Moreover, the differentially expressed miRNAs-mediated pathways that regulate the development of ears were discussed.
This study confirmed 22 conserved miRNA families and discovered 26 novel miRNAs in maize. Moreover, we identified 141 target genes of known and new miRNAs and ta-siRNAs. Of these, 72 genes (117 transcripts) targeted by 62 differentially expressed miRNAs may attribute to the development of maize ears. Identification and characterization of these important classes of regulatory genes in maize may improve our understanding of molecular mechanisms controlling ear development.
PMCID: PMC3901417  PMID: 24422852
23.  Bioinformatic identification of cassava miRNAs differentially expressed in response to infection by Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. manihotis 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:29.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are short RNA molecules that control gene expression by silencing complementary mRNA. They play a crucial role in stress response in plants, including biotic stress. Some miRNAs are known to respond to bacterial infection in Arabidopsis thaliana but it is currently unknown whether these responses are conserved in other plants and whether novel species-specific miRNAs could have a role in defense.
This work addresses the role of miRNAs in the Manihot esculenta (cassava)-Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. manihotis (Xam) interaction. Next-generation sequencing was used for analyzing small RNA libraries from cassava tissue infected and non-infected with Xam. A full repertoire of cassava miRNAs was characterized, which included 56 conserved families and 12 novel cassava-specific families. Endogenous targets were predicted in the cassava genome for many miRNA families. Some miRNA families' expression was increased in response to bacterial infection, including miRNAs known to mediate defense by targeting auxin-responding factors as well as some cassava-specific miRNAs. Some bacteria-repressed miRNAs included families involved in copper regulation as well as families targeting disease resistance genes. Putative transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) were identified in the MIRNA genes promoter region and compared to promoter regions in miRNA target genes and protein coding genes, revealing differences between MIRNA gene transcriptional regulation and other genes.
Taken together these results suggest that miRNAs in cassava play a role in defense against Xam, and that the mechanism is similar to what's known in Arabidopsis and involves some of the same families.
PMCID: PMC3337288  PMID: 22361011
24.  Small RNA profiling reveals regulation of Arabidopsis miR168 and heterochromatic siRNA415 in response to fungal elicitors 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):1083.
Small RNAs (sRNAs), including small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs), have emerged as important regulators of eukaryotic gene expression. In plants, miRNAs play critical roles in development, nutrient homeostasis and abiotic stress responses. Accumulating evidence also reveals that sRNAs are involved in plant immunity. Most studies on pathogen-regulated sRNAs have been conducted in Arabidopsis plants infected with the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae, or treated with the flagelin-derived elicitor peptide flg22 from P. syringae. This work investigates sRNAs that are regulated by elicitors from the fungus Fusarium oxysporum in Arabidopsis.
Microarray analysis revealed alterations on the accumulation of a set of sRNAs in response to elicitor treatment, including miRNAs and small RNA sequences derived from massively parallel signature sequencing. Among the elicitor-regulated miRNAs was miR168 which regulates ARGONAUTE1, the core component of the RNA-induced silencing complex involved in miRNA functioning. Promoter analysis in transgenic Arabidopsis plants revealed transcriptional activation of MIR168 by fungal elicitors. Furthermore, transgenic plants expressing a GFP-miR168 sensor gene confirmed that the elicitor-induced miR168 is active. MiR823, targeting Chromomethylase3 (CMT3) involved in RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) was also found to be regulated by fungal elicitors. In addition to known miRNAs, microarray analysis allowed the identification of an elicitor-inducible small RNA that was incorrectly annotated as a miRNA. Studies on Arabidopsis mutants impaired in small RNA biogenesis demonstrated that this sRNA, is a heterochromatic-siRNA (hc-siRNA) named as siRNA415. Hc-siRNAs are known to be involved in RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM). SiRNA415 is detected in several plant species.
Results here presented support a transcriptional regulatory mechanism underlying MIR168 expression. This finding highlights the importance of miRNA functioning in adaptive processes of Arabidopsis plants to fungal infection. The results of this study also lay a foundation for the involvement of RdDM processes through the activity of siRNA415 and miR823 in mediating regulation of immune responses in Arabidopsis plants.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1083) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4299684  PMID: 25491154
Arabidopsis; Microarray analysis; microRNA; Fungal elicitors; hc-siRNA; miR168 sensor
25.  Identification and characterization of microRNAs in the flag leaf and developing seed of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:289.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate various biological processes in plants. Considerable data are available on miRNAs involved in the development of rice, maize and barley. In contrast, little is known about miRNAs and their functions in the development of wheat. In this study, five small RNA (sRNA) libraries from wheat seedlings, flag leaves, and developing seeds were developed and sequenced to identify miRNAs and understand their functions in wheat development.
Twenty-four known miRNAs belonging to 15 miRNA families were identified from 18 MIRNA loci in wheat in the present study, including 15 miRNAs (9 MIRNA loci) first identified in wheat, 13 miRNA families (16 MIRNA loci) being highly conserved and 2 (2 MIRNA loci) moderately conserved. In addition, fifty-five novel miRNAs were also identified. The potential target genes for 15 known miRNAs and 37 novel miRNAs were predicted using strict criteria, and these target genes are involved in a wide range of biological functions. Four of the 15 known miRNA families and 22 of the 55 novel miRNAs were preferentially expressed in the developing seeds with logarithm (log2) of the fold change of 1.0 ~ 7.6, and half of them were seed-specific, suggesting that they participate in regulating wheat seed development and metabolism. From 5 days post-anthesis to 20 days post-anthesis, miR164 and miR160 increased in abundance in the developing seeds, whereas miR169 decreased, suggesting their coordinating functions in the different developmental stages of wheat seed. Moreover, 8 known miRNA families and 28 novel miRNAs exhibited tissue-biased expression in wheat flag leaves, with the logarithm of the fold changes of 0.1 ~ 5.2. The putative targets of these tissue-preferential miRNAs were involved in various metabolism and biological processes, suggesting complexity of the regulatory networks in different tissues. Our data also suggested that wheat flag leaves have more complicated regulatory networks of miRNAs than developing seeds.
Our work identified and characterised wheat miRNAs, their targets and expression patterns. This study is the first to elucidate the regulatory networks of miRNAs involved in wheat flag leaves and developing seeds, and provided a foundation for future studies on specific functions of these miRNAs.
PMCID: PMC4029127  PMID: 24734873
MicroRNA; Triticum aestivum; Flag leaf; Seed development; Small RNA sequencing; Expression profile; miRNA target

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