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Pancreatology. 2011;11(3):343-50. doi: 10.1159/000329183. Epub 2011 Jul 12.

Elevated microRNA miR-21 levels in pancreatic cyst fluid are predictive of mucinous precursor lesions of ductal adenocarcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA.



Biomarkers for the diagnostic classification of pancreatic cysts are urgently needed. Deregulated microRNA (miRNAs) expression is widespread in pancreatic cancer. We assessed whether aberrant miRNAs in pancreatic cyst fluid could be used as potential biomarkers for cystic precursor lesions of pancreatic cancer.


Cyst fluid specimens were prospectively collected from 40 surgically resected pancreatic cysts, and small RNAs were extracted. The 'mucinous' cohort included 14 intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (including 3 with an associated adenocarcinoma) and 10 mucinous cystic neoplasms; the 'nonmucinous' cohort included 11 serous cystadenomas and 5 other benign cysts. Quantitative reverse transcription PCR was performed for five miRNAs (miR-21, miR-155, miR-221, miR-17-3p, miR-191), which were previously reported as overexpressed in pancreatic adenocarcinomas.


Significantly higher expression of miR-21, miR-221, and miR-17-3p was observed in the mucinous versus nonmucinous cysts (p < 0.01), with the mean relative fold differences being 7.0-, 7.9-, and 5.4-fold, respectively. Receiver operating characteristic curves demonstrated the highest median area under the curve for miR-21, with a median specificity of 76%, at a sensitivity of 80%.


This pilot study demonstrates that profiling miRNAs in pancreatic cyst fluid samples is feasible and can yield potential biomarkers for the classification of cystic lesions of the pancreas. and IAP.

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