Comment on: Transcoronary concentration gradients of circulating microRNAs. [Circulation. 2011]
The Drosophila let-7-Complex (let-7-C) is a polycistronic locus encoding three ancient microRNAs: let-7, miR-100, and fly lin-4 (miR-125). We find that the let-7-C locus is principally expressed in the pupal and adult neuromusculature. let-7-C knockout flies appear normal externally but display defects in adult behaviors (e.g., flight, motility, and fertility) as well as clear juvenile features in their neuromusculature. We find that the function of let-7-C to ensure the appropriate remodeling of the abdominal neuromusculature during the larval-to-adult transition is carried out predominantly by let-7 alone. This heterochronic role of let-7 is likely just one of the ways in which let-7-C promotes adult behavior.
mirWIP: microRNA target prediction based on microRNA-containing ribonucleoprotein-enriched transcripts
Target prediction for animal microRNAs (miRNAs) has been hindered by the small number of verified targets available to evaluate the accuracy of predicted miRNA-target interactions. Recently, a dataset of 3,404 miRNA-associated mRNA transcripts was identified by immunoprecipitation of the RNA-induced silencing complex components AIN-1 and AIN-2. Our analysis of this AIN-IP dataset revealed enrichment for defining characteristics of functional miRNA-target interactions, including structural accessibility of target sequences, total free energy of miRNA-target hybridization and topology of base-pairing to the 5' seed region of the miRNA. We used these enriched characteristics as the basis for a quantitative miRNA target prediction method, miRNA targets by weighting immunoprecipitation-enriched parameters (mirWIP), which optimizes sensitivity to verified miRNA-target interactions and specificity to the AIN-IP dataset. MirWIP can be used to capture all known conserved miRNA-mRNA target relationships in Caenorhabditis elegans at a lower false-positive rate than can the current standard methods.
Our appreciation of the significance of microRNAs to biology at large continues to be an evolving process.
microRNAs comprise a few percent of animal genes and have been recognized as important regulators of a diverse range of biological processes. Understanding the biological functions of miRNAs requires effective means to identify their targets. Combined efforts from computational prediction, miRNA over-expression or depletion, and biochemical purification have identified thousands of potential miRNA-target pairs in cells and organisms. Complementarity to the miRNA seed sequence appears to be a common principle in target recognition. Other features, including miRNA-target duplex stability, binding site accessibility, and local UTR structure might affect target recognition. Yet computational approaches using such contextual features have yielded largely nonoverlapping results and experimental assessment of their impact has been limited. Here, we compare two large sets of miRNA targets: targets identified using an improved Ago1 immunopurification method and targets identified among transcripts up-regulated after Ago1 depletion. We found surprisingly limited overlap between these sets. The two sets showed enrichment for target sites with different molecular, structural and functional properties. Intriguingly, we found a strong correlation between UTR length and other contextual features that distinguish the two groups. This finding was extended to all predicted microRNA targets. Distinct repression mechanisms could have evolved to regulate targets with different contextual features. This study reveals a complex relationship among different features in miRNA-target recognition and poses a new challenge for computational prediction.
Comment on: The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors, cki-1 and cki-2, act in overlapping but distinct pathways to control cell-cycle quiescence during C. elegans development. Buck SH, et al. Cell Cycle 2009; 8:2613-20.
A feedback circuit involving let-7-family miRNAs and DAF-12 integrates environmental signals and developmental timing in Caenorhabditis elegans
Animal development is remarkably robust; cell fates are specified with spatial and temporal precision despite physiological and environmental contingencies. Favorable conditions cause Caenorhabditis elegans to develop rapidly through four larval stages (L1-L4) to the reproductive adult. In unfavorable conditions, L2 larvae can enter the developmentally quiescent, stress-resistant dauer larva stage, enabling them to survive for prolonged periods before completing development. A specific progression of cell division and differentiation events occurs with fidelity during the larval stages, regardless of whether an animal undergoes continuous or dauer-interrupted development. The temporal patterning of developmental events is controlled by the heterochronic genes, whose products include microRNAs (miRNAs) and regulatory proteins. One of these proteins, the DAF-12 nuclear hormone receptor, modulates the transcription of certain let-7-family miRNAs, and also mediates the choice between the continuous vs. dauer-interrupted life history. Here, we report a complex feedback loop between DAF-12 and the let-7-family miRNAs involving both the repression of DAF-12 by let-7-family miRNAs and the ligand-modulated transcriptional activation and repression of the let-7-Fam miRNAs by DAF-12. We propose that this feedback loop functions to ensure robustness of cell fate decisions and to coordinate cell fate with developmental arrest.
Why do many microRNA gene mutants display no evident phenotype? Multiply mutant worms that are selectively impaired in genetic regulatory network activities have been used to uncover previously unknown functions for numerous Caenorhabditis elegans microRNAs.
The developmental timing regulator HBL-1 modulates the dauer formation decision in Caenorhabditis elegans
Animals developing in the wild encounter a range of environmental conditions, and so developmental mechanisms have evolved that can accommodate different environmental contingencies. Harsh environmental conditions cause Caenorhabditis elegans larvae to arrest as stress-resistant "dauer" larvae after the second larval stage (L2), thereby indefinitely postponing L3 cell fates. HBL-1 is a key transcriptional regulator of L2 vs. L3 cell fate. Through the analysis of genetic interactions between mutations of hbl-1 and of genes encoding regulators of dauer larva formation, we find that hbl-1 can also modulate the dauer formation decision in a complex manner. We propose that dynamic interactions between genes that regulate stage-specific cell fate decisions and those that regulate dauer formation promote the robustness of developmental outcomes to changing environmental conditions.
Animals have evolved mechanisms to ensure the robustness of developmental outcomes to changing environments. MicroRNA expression may contribute to developmental robustness because microRNAs are key post-transcriptional regulators of developmental gene expression and can affect the expression of multiple target genes. Caenorhabditis elegans provides an excellent model to study developmental responses to environmental conditions. In favorable environments, C. elegans larvae develop rapidly and continuously through four larval stages. In contrast, in unfavorable conditions, larval development may be interrupted at either of two diapause stages: The L1 diapause occurs when embryos hatch in the absence of food, and the dauer diapause occurs after the second larval stage in response to environmental stimuli encountered during the first two larval stages. Dauer larvae are stress resistant and long lived, permitting survival in harsh conditions. When environmental conditions improve, dauer larvae re-enter development, and progress through two post-dauer larval stages to adulthood. Strikingly, all of these life history options (whether continuous or interrupted) involve an identical pattern and sequence of cell division and cell fates. To identify microRNAs with potential functions in buffering development in the context of C. elegans life history options, we used multiplex real-time PCR to assess the expression of 107 microRNAs throughout development in both continuous and interrupted life histories. We identified 17 microRNAs whose developmental profile of expression is affected by dauer life history and/or L1 diapause, compared to continuous development. Hence these microRNAs could function to regulate gene expression programs appropriate for different life history options in the developing worm.
MicroRNAs regulate temporal transitions in gene expression associated with cell fate progression and differentiation throughout animal development. Genetic analysis of developmental timing in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans identified two evolutionarily conserved microRNAs, lin-4/mir-125 and let-7, that regulate cell fate progression and differentiation in C. elegans cell lineages. MicroRNAs perform analogous developmental timing functions in other animals, including mammals. By regulating cell fate choices and transitions between pluripotency and differentiation, microRNAs help to orchestrate developmental events throughout the developing animal, and to play tissue homeostasis roles important for disease, including cancer.
Dauer larva quiescence alters the circuitry of microRNA pathways regulating cell fate progression in C. elegans
In C. elegans larvae, the execution of stage-specific developmental events is controlled by heterochronic genes, which include those encoding a set of transcription factors and the microRNAs that regulate the timing of their expression. Under adverse environmental conditions, developing larvae enter a stress-resistant, quiescent stage called 'dauer'. Dauer larvae are characterized by the arrest of all progenitor cell lineages at a stage equivalent to the end of the second larval stage (L2). If dauer larvae encounter conditions favorable for resumption of reproductive growth, they recover and complete development normally, indicating that post-dauer larvae possess mechanisms to accommodate an indefinite period of interrupted development. For cells to progress to L3 cell fate, the transcription factor Hunchback-like-1 (HBL-1) must be downregulated. Here, we describe a quiescence-induced shift in the repertoire of microRNAs that regulate HBL-1. During continuous development, HBL-1 downregulation (and consequent cell fate progression) relies chiefly on three let-7 family microRNAs, whereas after quiescence, HBL-1 is downregulated primarily by the lin-4 microRNA in combination with an altered set of let-7 family microRNAs. We propose that this shift in microRNA regulation of HBL-1 expression involves an enhancement of the activity of lin-4 and let-7 microRNAs by miRISC modulatory proteins, including NHL-2 and LIN-46. These results illustrate how the employment of alternative genetic regulatory pathways can provide for the robust progression of progenitor cell fates in the face of temporary developmental quiescence.
Like mammalian neurons, Caenorhabditis elegans neurons lose axon regeneration ability as they age, but it is not known why. Here, we report that let-7 contributes to a developmental decline in anterior ventral microtubule (AVM) axon regeneration. In older AVM axons, let-7 inhibits regeneration by down-regulating LIN-41, an important AVM axon regeneration-promoting factor. Whereas let-7 inhibits lin-41 expression in older neurons through the lin-41 3' untranslated region, lin-41 inhibits let-7 expression in younger neurons through Argonaute ALG-1. This reciprocal inhibition ensures that axon regeneration is inhibited only in older neurons. These findings show that a let-7-lin-41 regulatory circuit, which was previously shown to control timing of events in mitotic stem cell lineages, is reutilized in postmitotic neurons to control postdifferentiation events.
In metazoans, microRNAs play a critical role in the posttranscriptional regulation of genes required for cell proliferation and differentiation. MicroRNAs themselves are regulated by a multitude of mechanisms influencing their transcription and posttranscriptional maturation. However, there is only sparse knowledge on pathways regulating the mature, functional form of microRNA. Here, we uncover the implication of the decapping scavenger protein DCS-1 in the control of microRNA turnover. In Caenorhabditis elegans, mutations in dcs-1 increase the levels of functional microRNAs. We demonstrate that DCS-1 interacts with the exonuclease XRN-1 to promote microRNA degradation in an independent manner from its known decapping scavenger activity, establishing two molecular functions for DCS-1. Our findings thus indicate that DCS-1 is part of a degradation complex that performs microRNA turnover in animals.
Interview with Victor Ambros, who studies how microRNAs impact development.
Circulating Cell and Plasma microRNA Profiles Differ between Non-ST-Segment and ST-Segment-Elevation Myocardial Infarction
BACKGROUND: Differences in plasma and whole blood expression microRNAs (miRNAs) in patients with an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) have been determined in both in vitro and in vivo studies. Although most circulating miRNAs are located in the cellular components of whole blood, little is known about the miRNA profiles of whole blood subcomponents, including plasma, platelets and leukocytes in patients with myocardial ischemia.
METHODS: Thirteen patients with a ST-segment-elevation (STEMI) or non-ST-segment elevation (NSTEMI) myocardial infarction were identified in the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Emergency Department (ED) or cardiac catheterization laboratory between February and June of 2012. Whole blood was obtained from arterial blood samples at the time of cardiac catheterization and cell-specific miRNA profiling was performed. Expression of 343 miRNAs was quantified from whole blood, plasma, platelets, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells using a high-throughput, quantitative Real-Time polymerase-chain reaction system (qRT-PCR).
RESULTS: MiRNAs associated with STEMI as compared to NSTEMI patients included miR-25-3p, miR-221-3p, and miR-374b-5p. MiRNA 30d-5p was associated with plasma, platelets, and leukocytes in both STEMI and NSTEMI patients; miRNAs 221-3p and 483-5p were correlated with plasma and platelets only in NSTEMI patients.
CONCLUSIONS: Cell-specific miRNA profiles differed between patients with STEMI and NSTEMI. The miRNA distribution is also unique amongst plasma, platelets, and leukocytes in patients with ischemic heart disease or ACS. Our findings suggest unique miRNA profiles among the circulating subcomponents in patients presenting with myocardial ischemia.
Mutations in conserved residues of the C. elegans microRNA Argonaute ALG-1 identify separable functions in ALG-1 miRISC loading and target repression
microRNAs function in diverse developmental and physiological processes by regulating target gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. ALG-1 is one of two Caenorhabditis elegans Argonautes (ALG-1 and ALG-2) that together are essential for microRNA biogenesis and function. Here, we report the identification of novel antimorphic (anti) alleles of ALG-1 as suppressors of lin-28(lf) precocious developmental phenotypes. The alg-1(anti) mutations broadly impair the function of many microRNAs and cause dosage-dependent phenotypes that are more severe than the complete loss of ALG-1. ALG-1(anti) mutant proteins are competent for promoting Dicer cleavage of microRNA precursors and for associating with and stabilizing microRNAs. However, our results suggest that ALG-1(anti) proteins may sequester microRNAs in immature and functionally deficient microRNA Induced Silencing Complexes (miRISCs), and hence compete with ALG-2 for access to functional microRNAs. Immunoprecipitation experiments show that ALG-1(anti) proteins display an increased association with Dicer and a decreased association with AIN-1/GW182. These findings suggest that alg-1(anti) mutations impair the ability of ALG-1 miRISC to execute a transition from Dicer-associated microRNA processing to AIN-1/GW182 associated effector function, and indicate an active role for ALG/Argonaute in mediating this transition.
The embryonic mir-35 family of microRNAs promotes multiple aspects of fecundity in Caenorhabditis elegans
MicroRNAs guide many aspects of development in all metazoan species. Frequently, microRNAs are expressed during a specific developmental stage to perform a temporally defined function. The C. elegans mir-35-42 microRNAs are expressed abundantly in oocytes and early embryos and are essential for embryonic development. Here, we show that these embryonic microRNAs surprisingly also function to control the number of progeny produced by adult hermaphrodites. Using a temperature-sensitive mir-35-42 family mutant (a deletion of the mir-35-41 cluster), we demonstrate three distinct defects in hermaphrodite fecundity. At permissive temperatures, a mild sperm defect partially reduces hermaphrodite fecundity. At restrictive temperatures, somatic gonad dysfunction combined with a severe sperm defect sharply reduces fecundity. Multiple lines of evidence, including a late embryonic temperature-sensitive period, support a role for mir-35-41 early during development to promote subsequent sperm production in later larval stages. We further show that the predicted mir-35 family target sup-26 (suppressor-26) acts downstream of mir-35-41 in this process, suggesting that sup-26 de-repression in mir-35-41 deletion mutants may contribute to temperature-sensitive loss of fecundity. In addition, these microRNAs play a role in male fertility, promoting proper morphogenesis of male-specific mating structures. Overall, our results demonstrate that robust activity of the mir-35-42 family microRNAs not only is essential for embryonic development across a range of temperatures but also enables the worm to subsequently develop full reproductive capacity.
The preparation and high-throughput sequencing of cDNA libraries from samples of small RNA is a powerful tool to quantify known small RNAs (such as microRNAs) and to discover novel RNA species. Interest in identifying the small RNA repertoire present in tissues and in biofluids has grown substantially with the findings that small RNAs can serve as indicators of biological conditions and disease states. Here we describe a novel and straightforward method to clone cDNA libraries from small quantities of input RNA. This method permits the generation of cDNA libraries from sub-picogram quantities of RNA robustly, efficiently and reproducibly. We demonstrate that the method provides a significant improvement in sensitivity compared to previous cloning methods while maintaining reproducible identification of diverse small RNA species. This method should have widespread applications in a variety of contexts, including biomarker discovery from scarce samples of human tissue or body fluids.
Circulating microRNA profiles in human patients with acetaminophen hepatotoxicity or ischemic hepatitis
We have identified, by quantitative real-time PCR, hundreds of miRNAs that are dramatically elevated in the plasma or serum of acetaminophen (APAP) overdose patients. Most of these circulating microRNAs decrease toward normal levels during treatment with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). We identified a set of 11 miRNAs whose profiles and dynamics in the circulation during NAC treatment can discriminate APAP hepatotoxicity from ischemic hepatitis. The elevation of certain miRNAs can precede the dramatic rise in the standard biomarker, alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and these miRNAs also respond more rapidly than ALT to successful treatment. Our results suggest that miRNAs can serve as sensitive diagnostic and prognostic clinical tools for severe liver injury and could be useful for monitoring drug-induced liver injury during drug discovery.