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Open Access Research article

Origin and evolution of a placental-specific microRNA family in the human genome

Zhidong Yuan12, Xiao Sun1*, Dongke Jiang1, Yan Ding1, Zhiyuan Lu1, Lejun Gong1, Hongde Liu1 and Jianming Xie1

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Bioelectronics, School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China

2 School of Life Science, Hunan University of Science and Technology, Xiangtan, China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:346  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-346

Published: 10 November 2010



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of short regulatory RNAs encoded in the genome of DNA viruses, some single cell organisms, plants and animals. With the rapid development of technology, more and more miRNAs are being discovered. However, the origin and evolution of most miRNAs remain obscure. Here we report the origin and evolution dynamics of a human miRNA family.


We have shown that all members of the miR-1302 family are derived from MER53 elements. Although the conservation scores of the MER53-derived pre-miRNA sequences are low, we have identified 36 potential paralogs of MER53-derived miR-1302 genes in the human genome and 58 potential orthologs of the human miR-1302 family in placental mammals. We suggest that in placental species, this miRNA family has evolved following the birth-and-death model of evolution. Three possible mechanisms that can mediate miRNA duplication in evolutionary history have been proposed: the transposition of the MER53 element, segmental duplications and Alu-mediated recombination. Finally, we have found that the target genes of miR-1302 are over-represented in transportation, localization, and system development processes and in the positive regulation of cellular processes. Many of them are predicted to function in binding and transcription regulation.


The members of miR-1302 family that are derived from MER53 elements are placental-specific miRNAs. They emerged at the early stage of the recent 180 million years since eutherian mammals diverged from marsupials. Under the birth-and-death model, the miR-1302 genes have experienced a complex expansion with some members evolving by segmental duplications and some by Alu-mediated recombination events.