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Open Access Research article

Functional divergence of the rapidly evolving miR-513 subfamily in primates

Zhenghua Sun12, Yanfeng Zhang12, Rui Zhang12, Xuebin Qi12 and Bing Su12*

Author Affiliations

1 Yunnan Key Laboratory of Primate Biomedical Research, Kunming 650217, China

2 Kunming Institute of Zoology, State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650223, China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:255  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-255

Published: 19 November 2013



The miR-513 subfamily belongs to an X-linked primate-specific miR506-514 cluster. Across primate species, there have been several duplication events and different species each possess a variety of miR-513 copies, indicating it underwent rapid evolution. Evidence suggests that this subfamily is preferentially expressed in the testis, but otherwise, to date, the evolutionary history and functional significance of this miRNA subfamily has remained largely unexplored.


We analyzed the evolutionary pattern of gene duplications and their functional consequence for the miR-513 subfamily in primates. Sequence comparisons showed that the duplicated copies of miR-513 were derived from transposable element (MER91C). Moreover, duplication events of the miR-513 subfamily seem to have occurred independently in Platyrrhini (New World monkeys) and Catarrhini (Old World monkeys, apes and humans) after they diverged. Different copies of the miR-513 subfamily (miR-513a/b/c) have different seed sequences, due to after-duplication sequence divergences, which eventually led to functional divergences. The results of functional assays indicated that miR-513b could inhibit the expression of its target gene, the down-regulator of transcription 1 (DR1) at both the mRNA and protein levels. In the developing testis of rhesus macaques, we observed a temporal coupling of expression levels between miR-513b and DR1, suggesting that miR-513b could affect male sexual maturation by negatively regulating the development-stage related functioning of DR1.


The miR-513 subfamily underwent multiple independent gene duplications among five different lineages of primates. The after-duplication sequence divergences among the different copies of miR-513 led to functional divergence of these copies in primates.

miR-513; Primate-specific; Rapid evolution; Testis; DR1