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PLoS Comput Biol. 2015 Nov 20;11(11):e1004612. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004612. eCollection 2015 Nov.

Computational Model of MicroRNA Control of HIF-VEGF Pathway: Insights into the Pathophysiology of Ischemic Vascular Disease and Cancer.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.


HRMs (hypoxia-responsive miRNAs) are a specific group of microRNAs that are regulated by hypoxia. Recent studies revealed that several HRMs including let-7 family miRNAs were highly induced in response to HIF (hypoxia-inducible factor) stabilization in hypoxia, and they potently participated in angiogenesis by targeting AGO1 (argonaute 1) and upregulating VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). Here we constructed a novel computational model of microRNA control of HIF-VEGF pathway in endothelial cells to quantitatively investigate the role of HRMs in modulating the cellular adaptation to hypoxia. The model parameters were optimized and the simulations based on these parameters were validated against several published in vitro experimental data. To advance the mechanistic understanding of oxygen sensing in hypoxia, we demonstrated that the rate of HIF-1α nuclear import substantially influences its stabilization and the formation of HIF-1 transcription factor complex. We described the biological feedback loops involving let-7 and AGO1 in which the impact of external perturbations were minimized; as a pair of master regulators when low oxygen tension was sensed, they coordinated the critical process of VEGF desuppression in a controlled manner. Prompted by the model-motivated discoveries, we proposed and assessed novel pathway-specific therapeutics that modulate angiogenesis by adjusting VEGF synthesis in tumor and ischemic cardiovascular disease. Through simulations that capture the complex interactions between miRNAs and miRNA-processing molecules, this model explores an innovative perspective about the distinctive yet integrated roles of different miRNAs in angiogenesis, and it will help future research to elucidate the dysregulated miRNA profiles found in cancer and various cardiovascular diseases.

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