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RNA. 2011 Feb;17(2):312-26. doi: 10.1261/rna.2537911. Epub 2010 Dec 22.

Widespread regulatory activity of vertebrate microRNA* species.

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  • 1Department of Developmental Biology, Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York, New York 10065, USA.


An obligate intermediate during microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis is an ~22-nucleotide RNA duplex, from which the mature miRNA is preferentially incorporated into a silencing complex. Its partner miRNA* species is generally regarded as a passenger RNA, whose regulatory capacity has not been systematically examined in vertebrates. Our bioinformatic analyses demonstrate that a substantial fraction of miRNA* species are stringently conserved over vertebrate evolution, collectively exhibit greatest conservation in their seed regions, and define complementary motifs whose conservation across vertebrate 3'-UTR evolution is statistically significant. Functional tests of 22 miRNA expression constructs revealed that a majority could repress both miRNA and miRNA* perfect match reporters, and the ratio of miRNA:miRNA* sensor repression was correlated with the endogenous ratio of miRNA:miRNA* reads. Analysis of microarray data provided transcriptome-wide evidence for the regulation of seed-matched targets for both mature and star strand species of several miRNAs relevant to oncogenesis, including mir-17, mir-34a, and mir-19. Finally, 3'-UTR sensor assays and mutagenesis tests confirmed direct repression of five miR-19* targets via star seed sites. Overall, our data demonstrate that miRNA* species have demonstrable impact on vertebrate regulatory networks and should be taken into account in studies of miRNA functions and their contribution to disease states.

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