Exploring the regulatory roles of microRNAs in mammalian development
Author(s)Zheng, Grace Xinying
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Computational and Systems Biology Program.
Phillip A. Sharp and Christopher B. Burge.
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microRNAs (miRNAs) are ~22-nt long short RNAs that regulate gene expression in organisms ranging from plants to animals. In mammals, miRNAs post-transcriptionally repress gene expression by primarily binding to the 3' untranslated region (3' UTR) of target mRNAs. Although hundreds of miRNAs have been discovered, targets of most miRNAs and the method by which they affect their biological function remain elusive. To better understand the role of miRNAs in fundamental cellular processes, we characterized enriched miRNA populations in three distinct murine developmental programs, T lymphocytes, embryonic stem cells, and the placenta. We started exploring the role of miRNAs in T lymphocytes by globally characterizing short RNA expression during key developmental stages of T lymphocytes. Our results showed that a distinct set of miRNAs is enriched in each stage. In particular, miR-181 is elevated at the double positive (DP) stage, when thymocytes expressing both CD4 and CD8 undergo positive and negative selection. We found that miR-181 can repress the expression of Bcl-2, CD69, and the T cell receptor, all of which are involved in positive selection. Analysis of short RNAs in T lymphocytes also revealed a novel miRNA cluster, the Sfmbt2 miRNA cluster, named as such since it maps to an intron of the Sfmbt2 gene, a Polycomb Group gene. Instead of studying this cluster in T lymphocytes, we decided to use embryonic stem (ES) cells as this cluster is also expressed in ES cells and the cells are more conducive to lab experimentation. This cluster contains several miRNA families, and we addressed the function of one miRNA family, miR-467a, as it shares target specificity with other highly abundant miRNAs in ES cells. Gain and loss of function assays showed that this family of miRNAs can promote cell survival by advancing the G1 to S phase transition. In addition, they target certain proapoptotic factors to buffer ES cells from apoptosis, especially in the context of genotoxic stress. The Sfmbt2 cluster is a mouse-specific miRNA cluster, and individual members have been uniquely amplified in the Sfmbt2 locus. We developed a method to explore the impact of species-specific miRNAs on the evolution of 3' UTRs, and found that target sites of many miRNAs show positive selection. In particular, mouse target sites have evolved to specifically gain binding sites (mouse-specific targets) for some Sfmbt2 miRNAs, several of which are enriched in the placenta. These mouse-specific targets are enriched in pathways regulating cell survival, implicating the Sfmbt2 miRNA cluster as a possible promoter to placental growth. Our studies in T lymphocytes, ES cells and the placenta have revealed important roles of miRNAs in shaping 3' UTR evolution, and mammalian development. Several novel miRNA targets we uncovered are important regulators of differentiation, cell cycle, and apoptosis. Understanding their functions will not only shed light on their roles in normal physiology, but also generate useful insights that can be applied to cancer and reprogramming.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Computational and Systems Biology Program, 2010.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.Cataloged from student-submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 159-176).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Computational and Systems Biology Program.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Computational and Systems Biology Program.