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Biotechniques. 2012 Apr;52(4):235-45. doi: 10.2144/000113837.

Quantitative analysis of microRNAs in tissue microarrays by in situ hybridization.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University Medical School, New Haven, CT, USA.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as key regulators in the pathogenesis of cancers where they can act as either oncogenes or tumor suppressors. Most miRNA measurement methods require total RNA extracts which lack critical spatial information and present challenges for standardization. We have developed and validated a method for the quantitative analysis of miRNA expression by in situ hybridization (ISH) allowing for the direct assessment of tumor epithelial expression of miRNAs. This co-localization based approach (called qISH) utilizes DAPI and cytokeratin immunofluorescence to establish subcellular compartments in the tumor epithelia, then multiplexed with the miRNA ISH, allows for quantitative measurement of miRNA expression within these compartments. We use this approach to assess miR-21, miR-92a, miR-34a, and miR-221 expression in 473 breast cancer specimens on tissue microarrays. We found that miR-221 levels are prognostic in breast cancer illustrating the high-throughput method and confirming that miRNAs can be valuable biomarkers in cancer. Furthermore, in applying this method we found that the inverse relationship between miRNAs and proposed target proteins is difficult to discern in large population cohorts. Our method demonstrates an approach for large cohort, tissue microarray-based assessment of miRNA expression.

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