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1.  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
2.  Identification of candidate miRNA biomarkers from miRNA regulatory network with application to prostate cancer 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of non-coding regulatory RNAs approximately 22 nucleotides in length that play a role in a wide range of biological processes. Abnormal miRNA function has been implicated in various human cancers including prostate cancer (PCa). Altered miRNA expression may serve as a biomarker for cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, limited data are available on the role of cancer-specific miRNAs. Integrative computational bioinformatics approaches are effective for the detection of potential outlier miRNAs in cancer.
The human miRNA-mRNA target network was reconstructed by integrating multiple miRNA-mRNA interaction datasets. Paired miRNA and mRNA expression profiling data in PCa versus benign prostate tissue samples were used as another source of information. These datasets were analyzed with an integrated bioinformatics framework to identify potential PCa miRNA signatures. In vitro q-PCR experiments and further systematic analysis were used to validate these prediction results.
Using this bioinformatics framework, we identified 39 miRNAs as potential PCa miRNA signatures. Among these miRNAs, 20 had previously been identified as PCa aberrant miRNAs by low-throughput methods, and 16 were shown to be deregulated in other cancers. In vitro q-PCR experiments verified the accuracy of these predictions. miR-648 was identified as a novel candidate PCa miRNA biomarker. Further functional and pathway enrichment analysis confirmed the association of the identified miRNAs with PCa progression.
Our analysis revealed the scale-free features of the human miRNA-mRNA interaction network and showed the distinctive topological features of existing cancer miRNA biomarkers from previously published studies. A novel cancer miRNA biomarker prediction framework was designed based on these observations and applied to prostate cancer study. This method could be applied for miRNA biomarker prediction in other cancers.
PMCID: PMC4007708  PMID: 24618011
miRNA biomarker; Gene expression; miRNA regulatory network; Prostate cancer
3.  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
4.  The Viral and Cellular MicroRNA Targetome in Lymphoblastoid Cell Lines 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(1):e1002484.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous human herpesvirus linked to a number of B cell cancers and lymphoproliferative disorders. During latent infection, EBV expresses 25 viral pre-microRNAs (miRNAs) and induces the expression of specific host miRNAs, such as miR-155 and miR-21, which potentially play a role in viral oncogenesis. To date, only a limited number of EBV miRNA targets have been identified; thus, the role of EBV miRNAs in viral pathogenesis and/or lymphomagenesis is not well defined. Here, we used photoactivatable ribonucleoside-enhanced crosslinking and immunoprecipitation (PAR-CLIP) combined with deep sequencing and computational analysis to comprehensively examine the viral and cellular miRNA targetome in EBV strain B95-8-infected lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs). We identified 7,827 miRNA-interaction sites in 3,492 cellular 3′UTRs. 531 of these sites contained seed matches to viral miRNAs. 24 PAR-CLIP-identified miRNA:3′UTR interactions were confirmed by reporter assays. Our results reveal that EBV miRNAs predominantly target cellular transcripts during latent infection, thereby manipulating the host environment. Furthermore, targets of EBV miRNAs are involved in multiple cellular processes that are directly relevant to viral infection, including innate immunity, cell survival, and cell proliferation. Finally, we present evidence that myc-regulated host miRNAs from the miR-17/92 cluster can regulate latent viral gene expression. This comprehensive survey of the miRNA targetome in EBV-infected B cells represents a key step towards defining the functions of EBV-encoded miRNAs, and potentially, identifying novel therapeutic targets for EBV-associated malignancies.
Author Summary
Over 90% of adults worldwide are infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). While EBV infection is normally controlled by a healthy immune system, in immuno-compromised individuals, EBV can cause serious disease and/or cancer. During infection, EBV expresses viral microRNAs (miRNAs) and induces the expression of specific cellular miRNAs. In general, miRNAs inhibit target gene expression by binding to complementary regions on target messenger RNAs (mRNA). While cellular miRNAs regulate important biological processes such as cell growth and differentiation, and many miRNAs have been linked to cancer progression, the functions of EBV miRNAs are largely unknown. To identify targets of EBV miRNAs and cellular miRNAs in EBV-infected cells, we used a high-throughput method based on next-generation sequencing technology to give a global picture of miRNA-regulated gene expression. Our analysis showed that over 500 mRNAs can be regulated by viral miRNAs, many of which are directly relevant to EBV infection. This study provides a comprehensive survey of viral and cellular miRNA targets in B cells, which is a positive step towards identifying novel therapeutic targets for EBV-associated cancers.
PMCID: PMC3266933  PMID: 22291592
5.  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
6.  Exploring complex miRNA-mRNA interactions with Bayesian networks by splitting-averaging strategy 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:408.
microRNAs (miRNAs) regulate target gene expression by controlling their mRNAs post-transcriptionally. Increasing evidence demonstrates that miRNAs play important roles in various biological processes. However, the functions and precise regulatory mechanisms of most miRNAs remain elusive. Current research suggests that miRNA regulatory modules are complicated, including up-, down-, and mix-regulation for different physiological conditions. Previous computational approaches for discovering miRNA-mRNA interactions focus only on down-regulatory modules. In this work, we present a method to capture complex miRNA-mRNA interactions including all regulatory types between miRNAs and mRNAs.
We present a method to capture complex miRNA-mRNA interactions using Bayesian network structure learning with splitting-averaging strategy. It is designed to explore all possible miRNA-mRNA interactions by integrating miRNA-targeting information, expression profiles of miRNAs and mRNAs, and sample categories. We also present an analysis of data sets for epithelial and mesenchymal transition (EMT). Our results show that the proposed method identified all possible types of miRNA-mRNA interactions from the data. Many interactions are of tremendous biological significance. Some discoveries have been validated by previous research, for example, the miR-200 family negatively regulates ZEB1 and ZEB2 for EMT. Some are consistent with the literature, such as LOX has wide interactions with the miR-200 family members for EMT. Furthermore, many novel interactions are statistically significant and worthy of validation in the near future.
This paper presents a new method to explore the complex miRNA-mRNA interactions for different physiological conditions using Bayesian network structure learning with splitting-averaging strategy. The method makes use of heterogeneous data including miRNA-targeting information, expression profiles of miRNAs and mRNAs, and sample categories. Results on EMT data sets show that the proposed method uncovers many known miRNA targets as well as new potentially promising miRNA-mRNA interactions. These interactions could not be achieved by the normal Bayesian network structure learning.
PMCID: PMC2797807  PMID: 20003267
7.  An in silico analysis of dynamic changes in microRNA expression profiles in stepwise development of nasopharyngeal carcinoma 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that participate in the spatiotemporal regulation of messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein synthesis. Recent studies have shown that some miRNAs are involved in the progression of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). However, the aberrant miRNAs implicated in different clinical stages of NPC remain unknown and their functions have not been systematically studied.
In this study, miRNA microarray assay was performed on biopsies from different clinical stages of NPC. TargetScan was used to predict the target genes of the miRNAs. The target gene list was narrowed down by searching the data from the UniGene database to identify the nasopharyngeal-specific genes. The data reduction strategy was used to overlay with nasopharyngeal-specifically expressed miRNA target genes and complementary DNA (cDNA) expression data. The selected target genes were analyzed in the Gene Ontology (GO) biological process and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) biological pathway. The microRNA-Gene-Network was build based on the interactions of miRNAs and target genes. miRNA promoters were analyzed for the transcription factor (TF) binding sites. UCSC Genome database was used to construct the TF-miRNAs interaction networks.
Forty-eight miRNAs with significant change were obtained by Multi-Class Dif. The most enriched GO terms in the predicted target genes of miRNA were cell proliferation, cell migration and cell matrix adhesion. KEGG analysis showed that target genes were significantly involved in adherens junction, cell adhesion molecules, p53 signalling pathway et al. Comprehensive analysis of the coordinate expression of miRNAs and mRNAs reveals that miR-29a/c, miR-34b, miR-34c-3p, miR-34c-5p, miR-429, miR-203, miR-222, miR-1/206, miR-141, miR-18a/b, miR-544, miR-205 and miR-149 may play important roles on the development of NPC. We proposed an integrative strategy for identifying the miRNA-mRNA regulatory modules and TF-miRNA regulatory networks. TF including ETS2, MYB, Sp1, KLF6, NFE2, PCBP1 and TMEM54 exert regulatory functions on the miRNA expression.
This study provides perspective on the microRNA expression during the development of NPC. It revealed the global trends in miRNA interactome in NPC. It concluded that miRNAs might play important regulatory roles through the target genes and transcription factors in the stepwise development of NPC.
PMCID: PMC3293045  PMID: 22260379
8.  Coordinate MicroRNA-Mediated Regulation of Protein Complexes in Prostate Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e84261.
MicroRNAs are a class of small non-coding regulatory RNA molecules that regulate mRNAs post-transcriptionally. Recent evidence has shown that miRNAs target entire functionally related proteins such as protein complexes and biological pathways. However, characterizing the influence of miRNAs on genes whose encoded proteins are part of protein complexes has not been studied in the context of disease. We propose an entropy-based framework to identify miRNA-mediated dysregulation of functionally related proteins during prostate cancer progression. The proposed framework uses experimentally verified miRNA-target interactions, functionally related proteins and expression data to identify miRNA-influenced protein complexes in prostate cancer, and identify genes that are dysregulated as a result. The framework constructs correlation matrixes between functionally related proteins and miRNAs that have targets in the complex, and assesses the changes in the Shannon entropy of the modules across different stages of prostate cancer. Results reveal that SMAD4 and HDAC containing protein complexes are highly affected and disrupted by miRNAs, particularly miRNA-1 and miRNA-16. Using biological pathways to define functionally related proteins reveals that NF-kB-, RAS-, and Syndecan-mediated pathways are dysregulated due to miRNA-1- and miRNA-16-mediated regulation. These results suggest that miRNA-1 and miRNA-16 are important master regulators of miRNA-mediated regulation in prostate cancer. Moreover, results reveal that miRNAs with high-influence on the disrupted protein complexes are diagnostic and prognostic biomarker candidates for prostate cancer progression. The observation of miRNA-mediated protein complex regulation and miRNA-mediated pathway regulation, with partial experimental verification from previous studies, demonstrates that our framework is a promising approach for the identification of novel miRNAs and protein complexes related to disease progression.
PMCID: PMC3877262  PMID: 24391925
9.  Integrative Identification of Deregulated MiRNA/TF-Mediated Gene Regulatory Loops and Networks in Prostate Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e100806.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have attracted a great deal of attention in biology and medicine. It has been hypothesized that miRNAs interact with transcription factors (TFs) in a coordinated fashion to play key roles in regulating signaling and transcriptional pathways and in achieving robust gene regulation. Here, we propose a novel integrative computational method to infer certain types of deregulated miRNA-mediated regulatory circuits at the transcriptional, post-transcriptional and signaling levels. To reliably predict miRNA-target interactions from mRNA/miRNA expression data, our method collectively utilizes sequence-based miRNA-target predictions obtained from several algorithms, known information about mRNA and miRNA targets of TFs available in existing databases, certain molecular structures identified to be statistically over-represented in gene regulatory networks, available molecular subtyping information, and state-of-the-art statistical techniques to appropriately constrain the underlying analysis. In this way, the method exploits almost every aspect of extractable information in the expression data. We apply our procedure on mRNA/miRNA expression data from prostate tumor and normal samples and detect numerous known and novel miRNA-mediated deregulated loops and networks in prostate cancer. We also demonstrate instances of the results in a number of distinct biological settings, which are known to play crucial roles in prostate and other types of cancer. Our findings show that the proposed computational method can be used to effectively achieve notable insights into the poorly understood molecular mechanisms of miRNA-mediated interactions and dissect their functional roles in cancer in an effort to pave the way for miRNA-based therapeutics in clinical settings.
PMCID: PMC4072696  PMID: 24968068
10.  Zcchc11 Uridylates Mature miRNAs to Enhance Neonatal IGF-1 Expression, Growth, and Survival 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(11):e1003105.
The Zcchc11 enzyme is implicated in microRNA (miRNA) regulation. It can uridylate let-7 precursors to decrease quantities of the mature miRNA in embryonic stem cell lines, suggested to mediate stem cell maintenance. It can uridylate mature miR-26 to relieve silencing activity without impacting miRNA content in cancer cell lines, suggested to mediate cytokine and growth factor expression. Broader roles of Zcchc11 in shaping or remodeling the miRNome or in directing biological or physiological processes remain entirely speculative. We generated Zcchc11-deficient mice to address these knowledge gaps. Zcchc11 deficiency had no impact on embryogenesis or fetal development, but it significantly decreased survival and growth immediately following birth, indicating a role for this enzyme in early postnatal fitness. Deep sequencing of small RNAs from neonatal livers revealed roles of this enzyme in miRNA sequence diversity. Zcchc11 deficiency diminished the lengths and terminal uridine frequencies for diverse mature miRNAs, but it had no influence on the quantities of any miRNAs. The expression of IGF-1, a liver-derived protein essential to early growth and survival, was enhanced by Zcchc11 expression in vitro, and miRNA silencing of IGF-1 was alleviated by uridylation events observed to be Zcchc11-dependent in the neonatal liver. In neonatal mice, Zcchc11 deficiency significantly decreased IGF-1 mRNA in the liver and IGF-1 protein in the blood. We conclude that the Zcchc11-mediated terminal uridylation of mature miRNAs is pervasive and physiologically significant, especially important in the neonatal period for fostering IGF-1 expression and enhancing postnatal growth and survival. We propose that the miRNA 3′ terminus is a regulatory node upon which multiple enzymes converge to direct silencing activity and tune gene expression.
Author Summary
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are molecules that regulate gene expression, usually serving silencing functions. Mechanisms regulating miRNAs are poorly understood. In test tube experiments, the enzyme Zcchc11 adds uridines to the ends of miRNAs and their precursors, with uridyation of miRNA precursors decreasing the quantities of mature miRNAs and uridylation of mature miRNAs decreasing their silencing activity. Whether, when, and to what effect Zcchc11 alters miRNA in living animals has never previously been reported. To understand functions of Zcchc11 in integrative biology, we generated mice deficient in Zcchc11. Mutant mice were born normally, but some died soon after birth and survivors grew poorly. No miRNA quantities were changed in tissues sampled from these mice, but mature miRNAs were less likely to have additional uridines on their ends. Some miRNAs that were uridylated by Zcchc11 targeted a critical growth factor known as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), but they did so less effectively when uridylated. Zcchc11-deficient mice had decreased amounts of IGF-1 in the liver and blood. These data reveal that Zcchc11 is an important enzyme in living animals for uridylating mature miRNAs, enhancing IGF-1 expression, and promoting neonatal growth and survival, suggesting a novel mode of gene regulation that is biologically significant.
PMCID: PMC3510031  PMID: 23209448
11.  Unraveling the characteristics of microRNA regulation in the developmental and aging process of the human brain 
BMC Medical Genomics  2013;6:55.
Structure and function of the human brain are subjected to dramatic changes during its development and aging. Studies have demonstrated that microRNAs (miRNAs) play an important role in the regulation of brain development and have a significant impact on brain aging and neurodegeneration. However, the underling molecular mechanisms are not well understood. In general, development and aging are conventionally studied separately, which may not completely address the physiological mechanism over the entire lifespan. Thus, we study the regulatory effect between miRNAs and mRNAs in the developmental and aging process of the human brain by integrating miRNA and mRNA expression profiles throughout the lifetime.
In this study, we integrated miRNA and mRNA expression profiles in the human brain across lifespan from the network perspective. First, we chose the age-related miRNAs by polynomial regression models. Second, we constructed the bipartite miRNA-mRNA regulatory network by pair-wise correlation coefficient analysis between miRNA and mRNA expression profiles. At last, we constructed the miRNA-miRNA synergistic network from the miRNA-mRNA network, considering not only the enrichment of target genes but also GO function enrichment of co-regulated target genes.
We found that the average degree of age-related miRNAs was significantly higher than that of non age-related miRNAs in the miRNA-mRNA regulatory network. The topological features between age-related and non age-related miRNAs were significantly different, and 34 reliable age-related miRNA synergistic modules were identified using Cfinder in the miRNA-miRNA synergistic network. The synergistic regulations of module genes were verified by reviewing miRNA target databases and previous studies.
Age-related miRNAs play a more important role than non age-related mrRNAs in the developmental and aging process of the human brain. The age-related miRNAs have synergism, which tend to work together as small modules. These results may provide a new insight into the regulation of miRNAs in the developmental and aging process of the human brain.
PMCID: PMC3878884  PMID: 24321625
Human brain; Development; Aging; miRNA; Synergistic regulation
12.  Functional Specialization of the Plant miR396 Regulatory Network through Distinct MicroRNA–Target Interactions 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(1):e1002419.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are ∼21 nt small RNAs that regulate gene expression in animals and plants. They can be grouped into families comprising different genes encoding similar or identical mature miRNAs. Several miRNA families are deeply conserved in plant lineages and regulate key aspects of plant development, hormone signaling, and stress response. The ancient miRNA miR396 regulates conserved targets belonging to the GROWTH-REGULATING FACTOR (GRF) family of transcription factors, which are known to control cell proliferation in Arabidopsis leaves. In this work, we characterized the regulation of an additional target for miR396, the transcription factor bHLH74, that is necessary for Arabidopsis normal development. bHLH74 homologs with a miR396 target site could only be detected in the sister families Brassicaceae and Cleomaceae. Still, bHLH74 repression by miR396 is required for margin and vein pattern formation of Arabidopsis leaves. MiR396 contributes to the spatio-temporal regulation of GRF and bHLH74 expression during leaf development. Furthermore, a survey of miR396 sequences in different species showed variations in the 5′ portion of the miRNA, a region known to be important for miRNA activity. Analysis of different miR396 variants in Arabidopsis thaliana revealed that they have an enhanced activity toward GRF transcription factors. The interaction between the GRF target site and miR396 has a bulge between positions 7 and 8 of the miRNA. Our data indicate that such bulge modulates the strength of the miR396-mediated repression and that this modulation is essential to shape the precise spatio-temporal pattern of GRF2 expression. The results show that ancient miRNAs can regulate conserved targets with varied efficiency in different species, and we further propose that they could acquire new targets whose control might also be biologically relevant.
Author Summary
Plants and other multicellular organisms need precise spatio-temporal control of gene expression, and this regulatory capacity depends, in part, on small RNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are one class of ∼21 nt small RNAs that originate from endogenous fold-back precursors found in plants and animals. They recognize complementary target sites in target mRNAs and guide them to cleavage or translational arrest. Studies of conserved miRNA networks in Arabidopsis and other plants have revealed that they fulfill essential regulatory roles. Most of the ancient miRNAs regulate transcription factors involved in plant development and hormone signaling. Here, we characterize the miR396 regulatory network. While miR396 regulates GRF transcription factors, at least in angiosperms and gymnosperms, this miRNA additionally regulates another transcription factor of the bHLH class but only in Arabidopsis thaliana and closely related species. Most conspicuously, the regulation of both conserved and new targets is important for leaf development in Arabidopsis. We also show that miRNA variants can exist in certain species and that they can display an enhanced activity towards their targets. In summary, we propose that conserved miRNA regulatory networks might expand their functions by the recruitment of additional targets as well as by slight variations in the small RNA sequences.
PMCID: PMC3252272  PMID: 22242012
13.  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
14.  Microarray and deep sequencing cross-platform analysis of the mirRNome and isomiR variation in response to epidermal growth factor 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:371.
Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) plays an important function in the regulation of cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation by binding to its receptor (EGFR) and providing cancer cells with increased survival responsiveness. Signal transduction carried out by EGF has been extensively studied at both transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. Little is known about the involvement of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the EGF signaling pathway. miRNAs have emerged as major players in the complex networks of gene regulation, and cancer miRNA expression studies have evidenced a direct involvement of miRNAs in cancer progression.
In this study, we have used an integrative high content analysis approach to identify the specific miRNAs implicated in EGF signaling in HeLa cells as potential mediators of cancer mediated functions. We have used microarray and deep-sequencing technologies in order to obtain a global view of the EGF miRNA transcriptome with a robust experimental cross-validation. By applying a procedure based on Rankprod tests, we have delimited a solid set of EGF-regulated miRNAs. After validating regulated miRNAs by reverse transcription quantitative PCR, we have derived protein networks and biological functions from the predicted targets of the regulated miRNAs to gain insight into the potential role of miRNAs in EGF-treated cells. In addition, we have analyzed sequence heterogeneity due to editing relative to the reference sequence (isomiRs) among regulated miRNAs.
We propose that the use of global genomic miRNA cross-validation derived from high throughput technologies can be used to generate more reliable datasets inferring more robust networks of co-regulated predicted miRNA target genes.
PMCID: PMC3680220  PMID: 23724959
15.  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
16.  Impact of microRNAs on regulatory networks and pathways in human colorectal carcinogenesis and development of metastasis 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:589.
Qualitative alterations or abnormal expression of microRNAs (miRNAs) in colon cancer have mainly been demonstrated in primary tumors. Poorly overlapping sets of oncomiRs, tumor suppressor miRNAs and metastamiRs have been linked with distinct stages in the progression of colorectal cancer. To identify changes in both miRNA and gene expression levels among normal colon mucosa, primary tumor and liver metastasis samples, and to classify miRNAs into functional networks, in this work miRNA and gene expression profiles in 158 samples from 46 patients were analysed.
Most changes in miRNA and gene expression levels had already manifested in the primary tumors while these levels were almost stably maintained in the subsequent primary tumor-to-metastasis transition. In addition, comparing normal tissue, tumor and metastasis, we did not observe general impairment or any rise in miRNA biogenesis. While only few mRNAs were found to be differentially expressed between primary colorectal carcinoma and liver metastases, miRNA expression profiles can classify primary tumors and metastases well, including differential expression of miR-10b, miR-210 and miR-708. Of 82 miRNAs that were modulated during tumor progression, 22 were involved in EMT. qRT-PCR confirmed the down-regulation of miR-150 and miR-10b in both primary tumor and metastasis compared to normal mucosa and of miR-146a in metastases compared to primary tumor. The upregulation of miR-201 in metastasis compared both with normal and primary tumour was also confirmed. A preliminary survival analysis considering differentially expressed miRNAs suggested a possible link between miR-10b expression in metastasis and patient survival. By integrating miRNA and target gene expression data, we identified a combination of interconnected miRNAs, which are organized into sub-networks, including several regulatory relationships with differentially expressed genes. Key regulatory interactions were validated experimentally. Specific mixed circuits involving miRNAs and transcription factors were identified and deserve further investigation. The suppressor activity of miR-182 on ENTPD5 gene was identified for the first time and confirmed in an independent set of samples.
Using a large dataset of CRC miRNA and gene expression profiles, we describe the interplay of miRNA groups in regulating gene expression, which in turn affects modulated pathways that are important for tumor development.
PMCID: PMC3766699  PMID: 23987127
microRNA; Gene expression; Regulatory networks; Colorectal cancer; Metastasis
17.  miRGator v2.0 : an integrated system for functional investigation of microRNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(Database issue):D158-D162.
miRGator is an integrated database of microRNA (miRNA)-associated gene expression, target prediction, disease association and genomic annotation, which aims to facilitate functional investigation of miRNAs. The recent version of miRGator v2.0 contains information about (i) human miRNA expression profiles under various experimental conditions, (ii) paired expression profiles of both mRNAs and miRNAs, (iii) gene expression profiles under miRNA-perturbation (e.g. miRNA knockout and overexpression), (iv) known/predicted miRNA targets and (v) miRNA-disease associations. In total, >8000 miRNA expression profiles, ∼300 miRNA-perturbed gene expression profiles and ∼2000 mRNA expression profiles are compiled with manually curated annotations on disease, tissue type and perturbation. By integrating these data sets, a series of novel associations (miRNA–miRNA, miRNA–disease and miRNA–target) is extracted via shared features. For example, differentially expressed genes (DEGs) after miRNA knockout were systematically compared against miRNA targets. Likewise, differentially expressed miRNAs (DEmiRs) were compared with disease-associated miRNAs. Additionally, miRNA expression and disease-phenotype profiles revealed miRNA pairs whose expression was regulated in parallel in various experimental and disease conditions. Complex associations are readily accessible using an interactive network visualization interface. The miRGator v2.0 serves as a reference database to investigate miRNA expression and function (
PMCID: PMC3013691  PMID: 21062822
18.  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
19.  Using context-specific effect of miRNAs to identify functional associations between miRNAs and gene signatures 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14(Suppl 12):S1.
MicroRNAs are a class of short regulatory RNAs that act as post-transcriptional fine-tune regulators of a large host of genes that play key roles in many cellular processes and signaling pathways. A useful step for understanding their functional role is characterizing their influence on the protein context of the targets. Using miRNA context-specific influence as a functional signature is promising to identify functional associations between miRNAs and other gene signatures, and thus advance our understanding of miRNA mode of action.
In the current study we utilized the power of regularized regression models to construct functional associations between gene signatures. Genes that are influenced by miRNAs directly(computational miRNA target prediction) or indirectly (protein partners of direct targets) are defined as functional miRNA gene signature. The combined direct and indirect miRNA influence is defined as context-specific effects of miRNAs, and is used to identify regulatory effects of miRNAs on curated gene signatures. Elastic-net regression was used to build functional associations between context-specific effect of miRNAs and other gene signatures (disease, pathway signatures) by identifying miRNAs whose targets are enriched in gene lists. As a proof of concept, elastic-net regression was applied on lists of genes downregulated upon pre-miRNA transfection, and successfully identified the treated miRNA. This model was then extended to construct functional relationships between miRNAs and disease and pathway gene lists. Integrating context-specific effects of miRNAs on a protein network reveals more significant miRNA enrichment in prostate gene signatures compared to miRNA direct targets. The model identified novel list of miRNAs that are associated with prostate clinical variables.
Elastic-net regression is used as a model to construct functional associations between miRNA signatures and other gene signatures. Defining miRNA context-specific functional gene signature by integrating the downstream effect of miRNAs demonstrates better performance compared to the miRNA signature alone (direct targets). miRNA functional signatures can greatly facilitate miRNA research to uncover new functional associations between miRNAs and diseases, drugs or pathways.
PMCID: PMC3848857  PMID: 24267745
20.  Comprehensive analysis of human microRNA target networks 
BioData Mining  2011;4:17.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) mediate posttranscriptional regulation of protein-coding genes by binding to the 3' untranslated region of target mRNAs, leading to translational inhibition, mRNA destabilization or degradation, depending on the degree of sequence complementarity. In general, a single miRNA concurrently downregulates hundreds of target mRNAs. Thus, miRNAs play a key role in fine-tuning of diverse cellular functions, such as development, differentiation, proliferation, apoptosis and metabolism. However, it remains to be fully elucidated whether a set of miRNA target genes regulated by an individual miRNA in the whole human microRNAome generally constitute the biological network of functionally-associated molecules or simply reflect a random set of functionally-independent genes.
The complete set of human miRNAs was downloaded from miRBase Release 16. We explored target genes of individual miRNA by using the Diana-microT 3.0 target prediction program, and selected the genes with the miTG score ≧ 20 as the set of highly reliable targets. Then, Entrez Gene IDs of miRNA target genes were uploaded onto KeyMolnet, a tool for analyzing molecular interactions on the comprehensive knowledgebase by the neighboring network-search algorithm. The generated network, compared side by side with human canonical networks of the KeyMolnet library, composed of 430 pathways, 885 diseases, and 208 pathological events, enabled us to identify the canonical network with the most significant relevance to the extracted network.
Among 1,223 human miRNAs examined, Diana-microT 3.0 predicted reliable targets from 273 miRNAs. Among them, KeyMolnet successfully extracted molecular networks from 232 miRNAs. The most relevant pathway is transcriptional regulation by transcription factors RB/E2F, the disease is adult T cell lymphoma/leukemia, and the pathological event is cancer.
The predicted targets derived from approximately 20% of all human miRNAs constructed biologically meaningful molecular networks, supporting the view that a set of miRNA targets regulated by a single miRNA generally constitute the biological network of functionally-associated molecules in human cells.
PMCID: PMC3130707  PMID: 21682903
21.  microRNA Dysregulation in Prostate Cancer: Network Analysis Reveals Preferential Regulation of Highly Connected Nodes 
Chemistry & biodiversity  2012;9(5):857-867.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNAs shown to contribute to a number of cellular processes including cell growth, differentiation, and apoptosis. MiRNAs regulate gene expression of their targets post-transcriptionally by binding to messenger RNA (mRNA), causing translational inhibition or mRNA degradation. Dysregulation of miRNA expression can promote cancer formation and progression. Research has largely focused on the function and expression of single miRNAs. However, complex physiological processes require the interaction, regulation and coordination of many molecules including miRNAs and proteins. Highly connected molecules often serve important roles in the cell. A protein–protein interaction network of established miRNA targets confirmed these proteins to be highly connected and essential to the cell, affecting tumorigenesis, cell growth/proliferation, cellular death, cell assembly, and maintenance pathways. This analysis showed that miRNAs contribute to the overall health of the prostate, and their aberrant expression destabilized homeostatic balance. This integrative network approach can reveal important miRNAs and proteins in prostate cancer that will be useful to identify specific disease biomarkers, which may be used as targets for therapeutics or drugs in themselves.
PMCID: PMC3386794  PMID: 22589088
22.  MicroRNA: Potential Targets for the Development of Novel Drugs? 
Drugs in R&d  2012;10(1):1-8.
MicroRNA (miRNA) is an endogenous non-protein coding small RNA molecule that negatively regulates gene expression by the degradation of messenger RNA (mRNA) or the suppression of mRNA translation. miRNA plays important roles in physiologic processes such as cellular development, differentiation, proliferation, apoptosis, and stem cell self-renewal. Studies show that deregulation of miRNA expression is closely associated with tumorigenicity, invasion, and metastasis. The functionality of aberrant miRNAs in cancer could act either as oncogenes or tumor suppressors during tumor initiation and progression. Similar to protein-coding gene regulation, dysregulation of miRNAs may be related to changes in miRNA gene copy numbers, epigenetic modulation, polymorphisms, or biogenesis modifications. Elucidation of the miRNA expression profiles (miRNomes) of many types of cancers is starting to decode the regulatory network of miRNA-mRNA interactions from a systems biology perspective. Experimental evidence demonstrates that modulation of specific miRNA alterations in cancer cells using miRNA replacement or anti-miRNA technologies can restore miRNA activities and repair gene regulatory networks affecting apoptotic signaling pathways or drug sensitivity, and improve the outcome of treatment. Numerous animal studies for miRNA-based therapy offer the hope of targeting miRNAs as an alternative cancer treatment. Developing the small molecules to interfere with miRNAs could be of great pharmaceutical interest in the future.
PMCID: PMC3585691  PMID: 20509710
23.  Global gene expression analysis reveals reduced abundance of putative microRNA targets in human prostate tumours 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:93.
Recently, microRNAs (miRNAs) have taken centre stage in the field of human molecular oncology. Several studies have shown that miRNA profiling analyses offer new possibilities in cancer classification, diagnosis and prognosis. However, the function of miRNAs that are dysregulated in tumours remains largely a mystery. Global analysis of miRNA-target gene expression has helped illuminate the role of miRNAs in developmental gene expression programs, but such an approach has not been reported in cancer transcriptomics.
In this study, we globally analysed the expression patterns of miRNA target genes in prostate cancer by using several public microarray datasets. Intriguingly, we found that, in contrast to global mRNA transcript levels, putative miRNA targets showed a reduced abundance in prostate tumours relative to benign prostate tissue. Additionally, the down-regulation of these miRNA targets positively correlated with the number of types of miRNA target-sites in the 3' untranslated regions of these targets. Further investigation revealed that the globally low expression was mainly driven by the targets of 36 specific miRNAs that were reported to be up-regulated in prostate cancer by a miRNA expression profiling study. We also found that the transcript levels of miRNA targets were lower in androgen-independent prostate cancer than in androgen-dependent prostate cancer. Moreover, when the global analysis was extended to four other cancers, significant differences in transcript levels between miRNA targets and total mRNA backgrounds were found.
Global gene expression analysis, along with further investigation, suggests that miRNA targets have a significantly reduced transcript abundance in prostate cancer, when compared with the combined pool of all mRNAs. The abnormal expression pattern of miRNA targets in human cancer could be a common feature of the human cancer transcriptome. Our study may help to shed new light on the functional roles of miRNAs in cancer transcriptomics.
PMCID: PMC2653538  PMID: 19245699
24.  Targeted Inhibition of miRNA Maturation with Morpholinos Reveals a Role for miR-375 in Pancreatic Islet Development 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(8):e203.
Several vertebrate microRNAs (miRNAs) have been implicated in cellular processes such as muscle differentiation, synapse function, and insulin secretion. In addition, analysis of Dicer null mutants has shown that miRNAs play a role in tissue morphogenesis. Nonetheless, only a few loss-of-function phenotypes for individual miRNAs have been described to date. Here, we introduce a quick and versatile method to interfere with miRNA function during zebrafish embryonic development. Morpholino oligonucleotides targeting the mature miRNA or the miRNA precursor specifically and temporally knock down miRNAs. Morpholinos can block processing of the primary miRNA (pri-miRNA) or the pre-miRNA, and they can inhibit the activity of the mature miRNA. We used this strategy to knock down 13 miRNAs conserved between zebrafish and mammals. For most miRNAs, this does not result in visible defects, but knockdown of miR-375 causes defects in the morphology of the pancreatic islet. Although the islet is still intact at 24 hours postfertilization, in later stages the islet cells become scattered. This phenotype can be recapitulated by independent control morpholinos targeting other sequences in the miR-375 precursor, excluding off-target effects as cause of the phenotype. The aberrant formation of the endocrine pancreas, caused by miR-375 knockdown, is one of the first loss-of-function phenotypes for an individual miRNA in vertebrate development. The miRNA knockdown strategy presented here will be widely used to unravel miRNA function in zebrafish.
Author Summary
The striking tissue-specific expression patterns of microRNAs (miRNAs) suggest that they play a role in tissue development. These small RNA molecules (∼22 bases in length) are processed from long primary transcripts (pri-miRNA) and regulate gene expression at the posttranscriptional level. There are hundreds of different miRNAs, many of which are strongly conserved. Vertebrate embryonic development is most easily studied in zebrafish, but genetically disrupting miRNA genes to see which miRNA does what is technically challenging. In this study, we interfere with miRNA function during the first few days of zebrafish embryonic development by introducing specific antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (morpholinos have been used previously to interfere with the synthesis of the much larger mRNAs). We show that morpholinos targeting the miRNA precursor can block processing of the pri-miRNA or directly inhibit the activity of the mature miRNA. We also used morpholinos to study the developmental effects of miRNA knockdown. Although we did not observe gross phenotypic defects for many miRNAs, we found that zebrafish miR-375 is essential for formation of the insulin-secreting pancreatic islet. Loss of miR-375 results in dispersed islet cells by 36 hours postfertilization, representing one of the first vertebrate miRNA loss-of-function phenotypes.
The authors show that morpholinos can be used to knock down zebrafish miRNAs, revealing that miR-375 is important for vertebrate pancreas development.
PMCID: PMC1925136  PMID: 17676975
25.  miR-34a and miR-15a/16 are co-regulated in non-small cell lung cancer and control cell cycle progression in a synergistic and Rb-dependent manner 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:55.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that are frequently involved in carcinogenesis. Although many miRNAs form part of integrated networks, little information is available how they interact with each other to control cellular processes. miR-34a and miR-15a/16 are functionally related; they share common targets and control similar processes including G1-S cell cycle progression and apoptosis. The aim of this study was to investigate the combined action of miR-34a and miR-15a/16 in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells.
NSCLC cells were transfected with miR-34a and miR-15a/16 mimics and analysed for cell cycle arrest and apoptosis by flow cytometry. Expression of retinoblastoma and cyclin E1 was manipulated to investigate the role of these proteins in miRNA-induced cell cycle arrest. Expression of miRNA targets was assessed by real-time PCR. To investigate if both miRNAs are co-regulated in NSCLC cells, tumour tissue and matched normal lung tissue from 23 patients were collected by laser capture microdissection and compared for the expression of these miRNAs by real-time PCR.
In the present study, we demonstrate that miR-34a and miR-15a/16 act synergistically to induce cell cycle arrest in a Rb-dependent manner. In contrast, no synergistic effect of these miRNAs was observed for apoptosis. The synergistic action on cell cycle arrest was not due to a more efficient down-regulation of targets common to both miRNAs. However, the synergistic effect was abrogated in cells in which cyclin E1, a target unique to miR-15a/16, was silenced by RNA interference. Thus, the synergistic effect was due to the fact that in concerted action both miRNAs are able to down-regulate more targets involved in cell cycle control than each miRNA alone. Both miRNAs were significantly co-regulated in adenocarcinomas of the lung suggesting a functional link between these miRNAs.
In concerted action miRNAs are able to potentiate their impact on G1-S progression. Thus the combination of miRNAs of the same network rather than individual miRNAs should be considered for assessing a biological response. Since miR-34a and miR-15a/16 are frequently down-regulated in the same tumour tissue, administrating a combination of both miRNAs may also potentiate their therapeutic impact.
PMCID: PMC3120797  PMID: 21575235
cell cycle control; microRNA; non-small cell lung cancer; retinoblastoma; synergism

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