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Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 May 5;44(8):3865-77. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw116. Epub 2016 Feb 25.

Distribution of miRNA expression across human tissues.

Author information

Institute of Human Genetics, Saarland University, Medical School, Homburg, Germany.
Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Saarland University, Medical School, Homburg, Germany.
Chair for Clinical Bioinformatics, Saarland University, Saarbruecken, Germany.
Department I of Internal Medicine and Center of Integrated Oncology, University Hospital of Cologne, Cologne, Germany Cologne Excellence Cluster on Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-Associated Diseases (CECAD), Cologne, Germany.
Department of Internal Medicine III, University Hospital Heidelberg, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), 69120 Heidelberg, Germany Klaus Tschira Institute for Integrative Computational Cardiology, D-69118 Heidelberg, Germany.
Siemens Healthcare, Hartmannstrasse 16, 91052 Erlangen, Germany.
Chair for Clinical Bioinformatics, Saarland University, Saarbruecken, Germany


We present a human miRNA tissue atlas by determining the abundance of 1997 miRNAs in 61 tissue biopsies of different organs from two individuals collected post-mortem. One thousand three hundred sixty-four miRNAs were discovered in at least one tissue, 143 were present in each tissue. To define the distribution of miRNAs, we utilized a tissue specificity index (TSI). The majority of miRNAs (82.9%) fell in a middle TSI range i.e. were neither specific for single tissues (TSI > 0.85) nor housekeeping miRNAs (TSI < 0.5). Nonetheless, we observed many different miRNAs and miRNA families that were predominantly expressed in certain tissues. Clustering of miRNA abundances revealed that tissues like several areas of the brain clustered together. Considering -3p and -5p mature forms we observed miR-150 with different tissue specificity. Analysis of additional lung and prostate biopsies indicated that inter-organism variability was significantly lower than inter-organ variability. Tissue-specific differences between the miRNA patterns appeared not to be significantly altered by storage as shown for heart and lung tissue. MiRNAs TSI values of human tissues were significantly (P = 10(-8)) correlated with those of rats; miRNAs that were highly abundant in certain human tissues were likewise abundant in according rat tissues. We implemented a web-based repository enabling scientists to access and browse the data (

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