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Mob Genet Elements. 2011 May;1(1):8-17.

Comprehensive analysis of microRNA genomic loci identifies pervasive repetitive-element origins.

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School of Biological Sciences; Illinois State University; Normal, IL USA.


MicroRNAs (miRs) are small non-coding RNAs that generally function as negative regulators of target messenger RNAs (mRNAs) at the posttranscriptional level. MiRs bind to the 3'UTR of target mRNAs through complementary base pairing, resulting in target mRNA cleavage or translation repression. To date, over 15,000 distinct miRs have been identified in organisms ranging from viruses to man and interest in miR research continues to intensify. Of note, the most enlightening aspect of miR function-the mRNAs they target-continues to be elusive. Descriptions of the molecular origins of independent miR molecules currently support the hypothesis that miR hairpin generation is based on the adjacent insertion of two related transposable elements (TEs) at one genomic locus. Thus transcription across such TE interfaces establishes many, if not the majority of functional miRs. The implications of these findings are substantial for understanding how TEs confer increased genomic fitness, describing miR transcriptional regulations and making accurate miR target predictions. In this work, we have performed a comprehensive analysis of the genomic events responsible for the formation of all currently annotated miR loci. We find that the connection between miRs and transposable elements is more significant than previously appreciated, and more broadly, supports an important role for repetitive elements in miR origin, expression and regulatory network formation. Further, we demonstrate the utility of these findings in miR target prediction. Our results greatly expand the existing repertoire of defined miR origins, detailing the formation of 2,392 of 15,176 currently recognized miR genomic loci and supporting a mobile genetic element model for the genomic establishment of functional miRs.

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