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Mol Cancer. 2014 Nov 26;13:253. doi: 10.1186/1476-4598-13-253.

Comprehensive analysis of microRNA-regulated protein interaction network reveals the tumor suppressive role of microRNA-149 in human hepatocellular carcinoma via targeting AKT-mTOR pathway.

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Institute of Chinese Materia Medica, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing 100700, China.



Our previous study identified AKT1, AKT2 and AKT3 as unfavorable prognostic factors for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, limited data are available on their exact mechanisms in HCC. Since microRNAs (miRNAs) are implicated in various human cancers including HCC, we aimed to screen miRNAs targeting AKTs and investigate their underlying mechanisms in HCC by integrating bioinformatics prediction, network analysis, functional assay and clinical validation.


Five online programs of miRNA target prediction and RNAhybrid which calculate the minimum free energy (MFE) of the duplex miRNA:mRNA were used to screen optimized miRNA-AKT interactions. Then, miRNA-regulated protein interaction network was constructed and 5 topological features ('Degree', 'Node-betweenness', 'Edge-betweenness', 'Closeness' and 'Modularity') were analyzed to link candidate miRNA-AKT interactions to oncogenesis and cancer hallmarks. Further systematic experiments were performed to validate the prediction results.


Six optimized miRNA-AKT interactions (miR-149-AKT1, miR-302d-AKT1, miR-184-AKT2, miR-708-AKT2, miR-122-AKT3 and miR-124-AKT3) were obtained by combining the miRNA target prediction and MFE calculation. Then, 103 validated targets for the 6 candidate miRNAs were collected from miRTarBase. According to the enrichment analysis on GO items and KEGG pathways, these validated targets were significantly enriched in many known oncogenic pathways for HCC. In addition, miRNA-regulated protein interaction network were divided into 5 functional modules. Importantly, AKT1 and its interaction with mTOR respectively had the highest node-betweenness and edge-betweenness, implying their bottleneck roles in the network. Further experiments confirmed that miRNA-149 directly targeted AKT1 in HCC by a miRNA luciferase reporter approach. Then, re-expression of miR-149 significantly inhibited HCC cell proliferation and tumorigenicity by regulating AKT1/mTOR pathway. Notably, miR-149 down-regulation in clinical HCC tissues was correlated with tumor aggressiveness and poor prognosis of patients.


This comprehensive analysis identified a list of miRNAs targeting AKTs and revealed their critical roles in HCC malignant progression. Especially, miR-149 may function as a tumor suppressive miRNA and play an important role in inhibiting the HCC tumorigenesis by modulating the AKT/mTOR pathway. Our clinical evidence also highlight the prognostic potential of miR-149 in HCC. The newly identified miR-149/AKT/mTOR axis might be a promising therapeutic target in the prevention and treatment of HCC.

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