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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e24429. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024429. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

Cellular stress induced alterations in microRNA let-7a and let-7b expression are dependent on p53.

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Radiation Oncology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2012;7(4): doi/10.1371/annotation/5c1dd48c-38e4-41ed-b827-748f62e28365.
  • PLoS One. 2012;7(4): doi/10.1371/annotation/9b0f3eff-0376-43ca-b357-adfd8fc9ac7a.


Genotoxic stressors, such as radiation, induce cellular damage that activates pre-programmed repair pathways, some of which involve microRNAs (miRNA) that alter gene expression. The let-7 family of miRNA regulates multiple cellular processes including cell division and DNA repair pathways. However, the role and mechanism underlying regulation of let-7 genes in response to stress have yet to be elucidated. In this study we demonstrate that let-7a and let-7b expression decreases significantly following exposure to agents that induce stress including ionizing radiation. This decrease in expression is dependent on p53 and ATM in vitro and is not observed in a p53(-/-) colon cancer cell line (HCT116) or ATM(-/-) human fibroblasts. Chromatin Immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analysis showed p53 binding to a region upstream of the let-7 gene following radiation exposure. Luciferase transient transfections demonstrated that this p53 binding site is necessary for radiation-induced decreases in let-7 expression. A radiation-induced decrease in let-7a and let-7b expression is also observed in radiation-sensitive tissues in vivo and correlates with altered expression of proteins in p53-regulated pro-apoptotic signaling pathways. In contrast, this decreased expression is not observed in p53 knock-out mice suggesting that p53 directly repress let-7 expression. Exogenous expression of let-7a and let-7b increased radiation-induced cytotoxicity in HCT116 p53(+/+) cells but not HCT116 p53(-/-) cells. These results are the first demonstration of a mechanistic connection between the radiation-induced stress response and the regulation of miRNA and radiation-induced cytotoxicity and suggest that this process may be a molecular target for anticancer agents.

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