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Expression profiles of microRNAs from lactating and non-lactating bovine mammary glands and identification of miRNA related to lactation

Zhen Li13, Hongyun Liu13, Xiaolu Jin13, Lijan Lo12 and Jianxin Liu13*

Author affiliations

1 MOE Key Laboratory of Molecular Animal Nutrition, Hangzhou, 310058, PR China

2 Laboratory of Functional Genomics, College of Animal Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, P.R. China

3 Institute of Dairy Science, College of Animal Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, P.R. China

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:731  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-731

Published: 27 December 2012



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been implicated in the regulation of milk protein synthesis and development of the mammary gland (MG). However, the specific functions of miRNAs in these regulations are not clear. Therefore, the elucidation of miRNA expression profiles in the MG is an important step towards understanding the mechanisms of lactogenesis.


Two miRNA libraries were constructed from MG tissues taken from a lactating and a non-lactating Holstein dairy cow, respectively, and the short RNA sequences (18–30 nt) in these libraries were sequenced by Solexa sequencing method. The libraries included 885 pre-miRNAs encoding for 921 miRNAs, of which 884 miRNAs were unique sequences and 544 (61.5%) were expressed in both periods. A custom-designed microarray assay was then performed to compare miRNA expression patterns in the MG of lactating and non-lactating dairy cows. A total of 56 miRNAs in the lactating MG showed significant differences in expression compared to non-lactating MG (P<0.05). Integrative miRNA target prediction and network analysis approaches were employed to construct an interaction network of lactation-related miRNAs and their putative targets. Using a cell-based model, six miRNAs (miR-125b, miR-141, miR-181a, miR-199b, miR-484 and miR-500) were studied to reveal their possible biological significance.


Our study provides a broad view of the bovine MG miRNA expression profile characteristics. Eight hundred and eighty-four miRNAs were identified in bovine MG. Differences in types and expression levels of miRNAs were observed between lactating and non-lactating bovine MG. Systematic predictions aided in the identification of lactation-related miRNAs, providing insight into the types of miRNAs and their possible mechanisms in regulating lactation.