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Mol Cancer Res. 2012 Jan;10(1):167-80. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-11-0337. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

The mRNA stability factor HuR inhibits microRNA-16 targeting of COX-2.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Colon Cancer Research, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.


Commonly observed in colorectal cancer is the elevated expression of the prostaglandin (PG) synthase COX-2. In normal intestinal epithelium, the COX-2 mRNA is targeted for rapid decay through the 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR) adenylate- and uridylate (AU)-rich element (ARE), whereas in tumors ARE-mediated decay is compromised. Here we show that the COX-2 ARE can mediate degradation through microRNA (miRNA)-mediated regulation. We identified miR-16 to bind the COX-2 3'-UTR and inhibit COX-2 expression by promoting rapid mRNA decay. In colorectal cancer cells and tumors, miR-16 levels were decreased approximately twofold and miR-16 expression in cancer cells attenuated COX-2 expression and PG synthesis. The COX-2 ARE is also bound by the RNA-binding protein HuR. In colorectal cancer tumors, HuR is overexpressed and localized within the cytoplasm, where it promotes ARE-mRNA stabilization. Under conditions of HuR overexpression, miR-16 was unable to promote rapid mRNA decay through the COX-2 ARE. Ribonucleoprotein immunoprecipitation of HuR showed direct association with miR-16 that was reversed when cytoplasmic trafficking of HuR was inhibited. Furthermore, this interaction between HuR and miR-16 promoted the downregulation of miR-16. These new results identify miR-16 as a central posttranscriptional regulator of COX-2 and show the ability of elevated levels of HuR to antagonize miR-16 function. Along with insight into altered ARE-mediated mRNA decay observed in colorectal cancer, these findings provide a new explanation for tumor-derived loss of miR-16.

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