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PLoS One. 2014 Apr 9;9(4):e94352. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094352. eCollection 2014.

MicroRNA buffering and altered variance of gene expression in response to Salmonella infection.

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Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, United States of America.


One potential role of miRNAs is to buffer variation in gene expression, although conflicting results have been reported. To investigate the buffering role of miRNAs in response to Salmonella infection in pigs, we sequenced miRNA and mRNA in whole blood from 15 pig samples before and after Salmonella challenge. By analyzing inter-individual variation in gene expression patterns, we found that for moderately and lowly expressed genes, putative miRNA targets showed significantly lower expression variance compared with non-miRNA-targets. Expression variance between highly expressed miRNA targets and non-miRNA-targets was not significantly different. Further, miRNA targets demonstrated significantly reduced variance after challenge whereas non-miRNA-targets did not. RNA binding proteins (RBPs) are significantly enriched among the miRNA targets with dramatically reduced variance of expression after Salmonella challenge. Moreover, we found evidence that targets of young (less-conserved) miRNAs showed lower expression variance compared with targets of old (evolutionarily conserved) miRNAs. These findings point to the importance of a buffering effect of miRNAs for relatively lowly expressed genes, and suggest that the reduced expression variation of RBPs may play an important role in response to Salmonella infection.

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