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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e55186. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055186. Epub 2013 Jan 30.

TGF-β/Smad2/3 signaling directly regulates several miRNAs in mouse ES cells and early embryos.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.

Abstract

The Transforming Growth Factor-β (TGF-β) signaling pathway is one of the major pathways essential for normal embryonic development and tissue homeostasis, with anti-tumor but also pro-metastatic properties in cancer. This pathway directly regulates several target genes that mediate its downstream functions, however very few microRNAs (miRNAs) have been identified as targets. miRNAs are modulators of gene expression with essential roles in development and a clear association with diseases including cancer. Little is known about the transcriptional regulation of the primary transcripts (pri-miRNA, pri-miR) from which several mature miRNAs are often derived. Here we present the identification of miRNAs regulated by TGF-β signaling in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and early embryos. We used an inducible ES cell system to maintain high levels of the TGF-β activated/phosphorylated Smad2/3 effectors, which are the transcription factors of the pathway, and a specific inhibitor that blocks their activation. By performing short RNA deep-sequencing after 12 hours Smad2/3 activation and after 16 hours inhibition, we generated a database of responsive miRNAs. Promoter/enhancer analysis of a subset of these miRNAs revealed that the transcription of pri-miR-181c/d and the pri-miR-341∼3072 cluster were found to depend on activated Smad2/3. Several of these miRNAs are expressed in early mouse embryos, when the pathway is known to play an essential role. Treatment of embryos with TGF-β inhibitor caused a reduction of their levels confirming that they are targets of this pathway in vivo. Furthermore, we showed that pri-miR-341∼3072 transcription also depends on FoxH1, a known Smad2/3 transcription partner during early development. Together, our data show that miRNAs are regulated directly by the TGF-β/Smad2/3 pathway in ES cells and early embryos. As somatic abnormalities in functions known to be regulated by the TGF-β/Smad2/3 pathway underlie tumor suppression and metastasis, this research also provides a resource for miRNAs involved in cancer.

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