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Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 Jul;40(13):5890-900. doi: 10.1093/nar/gks279. Epub 2012 Mar 28.

Comparative analysis of human and mouse expression data illuminates tissue-specific evolutionary patterns of miRNAs.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) constitute an important class of gene regulators. While models have been proposed to explain their appearance and expansion, the validation of these models has been difficult due to the lack of comparative studies. Here, we analyze miRNA evolutionary patterns in two mammals, human and mouse, in relation to the age of miRNA families. In this comparative framework, we confirm some predictions of previously advanced models of miRNA evolution, e.g. that miRNAs arise more frequently de novo than by duplication, or that the number of protein-coding gene targeted by miRNAs decreases with evolutionary time. We also corroborate that miRNAs display an increase in expression level with evolutionary time, however we show that this relation is largely tissue-dependent, and especially low in embryonic or nervous tissues. We identify a bias of tag-sequencing techniques regarding the assessment of breadth of expression, leading us, contrary to predictions, to find more tissue-specific expression of older miRNAs. Together, our results refine the models used so far to depict the evolution of miRNA genes. They underline the role of tissue-specific selective forces on the evolution of miRNAs, as well as the potential co-evolution patterns between miRNAs and the protein-coding genes they target.

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