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J Dermatol Sci. 2011 Mar;61(3):187-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2010.12.010. Epub 2011 Jan 13.

The circulating microRNA-221 level in patients with malignant melanoma as a new tumor marker.

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Department of Dermatology and Plastic Surgery, Faculty of Life Sciences, Kumamoto University, 1-1-1 Honjo, Kumamoto, Japan.



MicroRNA-221 (miR-221) is known to be abnormally expressed in malignant melanoma (MM) cells, and it favors the induction of the malignant phenotype through down-modulation of p27Kip1/CDKN1B and the c-KIT receptor. This suggests that the serum level of miR-221 might increase in patients with MM and thus could be used as a new tumor marker.


To evaluate the possibility that the serum miR-221 level can be a marker of MM.


Serum samples were obtained from 94 MM patients and 20 healthy controls. MicroRNAs were purified from serum, and miR-221 levels were measured by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction.


Circulating miR-221 was detectable and could be quantified in serum samples. MM patients had significantly higher miR-221 levels than healthy controls. Among the MM patients, the miR-221 levels were significantly increased in patients with stage I-IV MM compared to those with MM in situ, and the levels were correlated with tumor thickness. Moreover, a longitudinal study revealed a tendency for the miR-221 levels to decrease after surgical removal of the primary tumor, and to increase again at recurrence.


Serum levels of miR-221 were significantly increased in MM patients and may be useful not only for the diagnosis of MM, but also for the differentiating MM in situ from stage I-IV MM, and for evaluating tumor progression and monitoring patients during the follow-up period. In addition, considering that the serum levels of miR-221 were correlated with tumor thickness, miR-221 might also be useful as a prognostic marker for patients with MM.

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