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Preferential regulation of miRNA targets by environmental chemicals in the human genome

Xudong Wu123* and Yijiang Song2

Author Affiliations

1 Key laboratory of Photosynthesis and Environmental Molecular Physiology, the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100093, China

2 Institute of Genomic Medicine, Wenzhou Medical College, Wenzhou, 325035, China

3 State key laboratory of Molecular Reaction Dynamics, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dalian, 116023, China

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:244  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-244

Published: 18 May 2011



microRNAs (miRNAs) represent a class of small (typically 22 nucleotides in length) non-coding RNAs that can degrade their target mRNAs or block their translation. Recent disease research showed the exposure to some environmental chemicals (ECs) can regulate the expression patterns of miRNAs, which raises the intriguing question of how miRNAs and their targets cope with the exposure to ECs throughout the genome.


In this study, we comprehensively analyzed the properties of genes regulated by ECs (EC-genes) and found miRNA targets were significantly enriched among the EC-genes. Compared with the non-miRNA-targets, miRNA targets were roughly twice as likely to be EC-genes. By investigating the collection methods and other properties of the EC-genes, we demonstrated that the enrichment of miRNA targets was not attributed to either the potential collection bias of EC-genes, the presence of paralogs, longer 3'UTRs or more conserved 3'UTRs. Finally, we identified 1,842 significant concurrent interactions between 407 miRNAs and 497 ECs. This association network of miRNAs-ECs was highly modular and could be separated into 14 interconnected modules. In each module, miRNAs and ECs were closely connected, providing a good method to design accurate miRNA markers for ECs in toxicology research.


Our analyses indicated that miRNAs and their targets played important roles in cellular responses to ECs. Association analyses of miRNAs and ECs will help to broaden the understanding of the pathogenesis of such chemical components.