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Diabetologia. 2013 Sep;56(9):1971-9. doi: 10.1007/s00125-013-2950-9. Epub 2013 Jun 12.

Human adipose microRNA-221 is upregulated in obesity and affects fat metabolism downstream of leptin and TNF-α.

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National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 445 North 5th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA.



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short endogenous RNAs that regulate multiple biological processes including adipogenesis and fat metabolism. We sought to identify miRNAs that correlate with BMI and to elucidate their upstream regulation and downstream targets.


Microarray-based expression profiling of 233 miRNAs was performed on subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue biopsies from 29 non-diabetic Pima Indian participants. Correlation of the expression levels of eight miRNAs with BMI was assessed by quantitative reverse transcription (QRT) PCR in adipose samples from 80 non-diabetic Pima Indians with a BMI of 21.6-54.0 kg/m(2). The upstream regulation of one of these miRNAs, miR-221, was tested by treating cultured human pre-adipocytes with leptin, TNF-α and insulin. Predicted targets of miR-221 were validated using QRT-PCR, immunoblots and luciferase assays. The downstream effects of miR-221 overexpression were assayed by proteomic analysis.


Expression levels of miR-221 were positively correlated with BMI (particularly in women) and fasting insulin concentrations, while the levels of miR-193a-3p and miR-193b-5p were negatively correlated with BMI; other miRNAs did not show significant associations in the 80 samples. miR-221 was downregulated by leptin and TNF-α treatment in cultured human pre-adipocytes. Conversely, miR-221 overexpression upregulated several proteins involved in fat metabolism, mimicking peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) activation. Furthermore, miR-221 directly downregulated the adiponectin receptor 1 (ADIPOR1) and the transcription factor v-ets erythroblastosis virus E26 oncogene homolog 1 (ETS1). Adiponectin signalling is known to promote insulin sensitivity, and ETS1 is crucial for angiogenesis.


Our data suggest that miR-221 may contribute to the development of the insulin resistance that typically accompanies obesity, by affecting PPAR signalling pathways and by directly downregulating ADIPOR1 and ETS1.

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