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Oncogene. 2008 Jul 17;27(31):4373-9. doi: 10.1038/onc.2008.72. Epub 2008 Mar 31.

MicroRNA-21 promotes cell transformation by targeting the programmed cell death 4 gene.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNA molecules that negatively control expression of target genes in animals and plants. The microRNA-21 gene (mir-21) has been identified as the only miRNA commonly overexpressed in solid tumors of the lung, breast, stomach, prostate, colon, brain, head and neck, esophagus and pancreas. We initiated a screen to identify miR-21 target genes using a reporter assay and identified a potential miR-21 target in the 3'-UTR of the programmed cell death 4 (PDCD4) gene. We cloned the full-length 3'-UTR of human PDCD4 downstream of a reporter and found that mir-21 downregulated, whereas a modified antisense RNA to miR-21 upregulated reporter activity. Moreover, deletion of the putative miR-21-binding site (miRNA regulatory element, MRE) from the 3'-UTR of PDCD4, or mutations in the MRE abolished the ability of miR-21 to inhibit reporter activity, indicating that this MRE is a critical regulatory region. Western blotting showed that Pdcd4 protein levels were reduced by miR-21 in human and mouse cells, whereas quantitative real-time PCR revealed little difference at the mRNA level, suggesting translational regulation. Finally, overexpression of mir-21 in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells and mouse epidermal JB6 cells promoted soft agar colony formation by downregulating Pdcd4 protein levels. The demonstration that miR-21 promotes cell transformation supports the concept that mir-21 functions as an oncogene by a mechanism that involves translational repression of the tumor suppressor Pdcd4.

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