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      Investigation of post-transcriptional gene regulatory networks associated with autism spectrum disorders by microRNA expression profiling of lymphoblastoid cell lines

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          Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by abnormalities in reciprocal social interactions and language development and/or usage, and by restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Differential gene expression of neurologically relevant genes in lymphoblastoid cell lines from monozygotic twins discordant in diagnosis or severity of autism suggested that epigenetic factors such as DNA methylation or microRNAs (miRNAs) may be involved in ASD.


          Global miRNA expression profiling using lymphoblasts derived from these autistic twins and unaffected sibling controls was therefore performed using high-throughput miRNA microarray analysis. Selected differentially expressed miRNAs were confirmed by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) analysis, and the putative target genes of two of the confirmed miRNA were validated by knockdown and overexpression of the respective miRNAs.


          Differentially expressed miRNAs were found to target genes highly involved in neurological functions and disorders in addition to genes involved in gastrointestinal diseases, circadian rhythm signaling, as well as steroid hormone metabolism and receptor signaling. Novel network analyses of the putative target genes that were inversely expressed relative to the relevant miRNA in these same samples further revealed an association with ASD and other co-morbid disorders, including muscle and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as with biological functions implicated in ASD, such as memory and synaptic plasticity. Putative gene targets ( ID3 and PLK2) of two RT-PCR-confirmed brain-specific miRNAs (hsa-miR-29b and hsa-miR-219-5p) were validated by miRNA overexpression or knockdown assays, respectively. Comparisons of these mRNA and miRNA expression levels between discordant twins and between case-control sib pairs show an inverse relationship, further suggesting that ID3 and PLK2 are in vivo targets of the respective miRNA. Interestingly, the up-regulation of miR-23a and down-regulation of miR-106b in this study reflected miRNA changes previously reported in post-mortem autistic cerebellum by Abu-Elneel et al. in 2008. This finding validates these differentially expressed miRNAs in neurological tissue from a different cohort as well as supports the use of the lymphoblasts as a surrogate to study miRNA expression in ASD.


          Findings from this study strongly suggest that dysregulation of miRNA expression contributes to the observed alterations in gene expression and, in turn, may lead to the pathophysiological conditions underlying autism.

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          Most cited references 147

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          MicroRNAs: genomics, biogenesis, mechanism, and function.

           David Bartel (2004)
          MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous approximately 22 nt RNAs that can play important regulatory roles in animals and plants by targeting mRNAs for cleavage or translational repression. Although they escaped notice until relatively recently, miRNAs comprise one of the more abundant classes of gene regulatory molecules in multicellular organisms and likely influence the output of many protein-coding genes.
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            Conserved seed pairing, often flanked by adenosines, indicates that thousands of human genes are microRNA targets.

            We predict regulatory targets of vertebrate microRNAs (miRNAs) by identifying mRNAs with conserved complementarity to the seed (nucleotides 2-7) of the miRNA. An overrepresentation of conserved adenosines flanking the seed complementary sites in mRNAs indicates that primary sequence determinants can supplement base pairing to specify miRNA target recognition. In a four-genome analysis of 3' UTRs, approximately 13,000 regulatory relationships were detected above the estimate of false-positive predictions, thereby implicating as miRNA targets more than 5300 human genes, which represented 30% of our gene set. Targeting was also detected in open reading frames. In sum, well over one third of human genes appear to be conserved miRNA targets.
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              The functions of animal microRNAs.

               Victor Ambros (2004)
              MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNAs that regulate the expression of complementary messenger RNAs. Hundreds of miRNA genes have been found in diverse animals, and many of these are phylogenetically conserved. With miRNA roles identified in developmental timing, cell death, cell proliferation, haematopoiesis and patterning of the nervous system, evidence is mounting that animal miRNAs are more numerous, and their regulatory impact more pervasive, than was previously suspected.

                Author and article information

                [1 ]Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The George Washington University Medical Center, 2300 Eye St NW, Washington, DC 20037, USA
                [2 ]Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
                Genome Med
                Genome Medicine
                BioMed Central
                7 April 2010
                : 2
                : 4
                : 23
                Copyright ©2010 Sarachana et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


                Molecular medicine


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