This article is part of the supplement: Eleventh International Conference on Bioinformatics (InCoB2012): Computational Biology

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Preferential regulation of stably expressed genes in the human genome suggests a widespread expression buffering role of microRNAs

Zhen Yang1, Dong Dong2, Zhaolei Zhang3, M James C Crabbe4, Li Wang5 and Yang Zhong16*

Author affiliations

1 School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai, 200433, China

2 Institute of Molecular Ecology and Evolution, iAIR, East China Normal University, Shanghai, 200062, China

3 Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto, 160 College Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 1A8, Canada

4 Institute of Biomedical and Environmental Science & Technology, Faculty of Creative Arts, Technologies and Science, University of Bedfordshire, Luton LU1 3JU, UK

5 Shanghai Center for Bioinformation Technology, Shanghai 200235, China

6 Institute of Biodiversity Science and Geobiology, Tibet University, Lhasa, 850000, China

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13(Suppl 7):S14  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-S7-S14

Published: 13 December 2012



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small noncoding RNAs that regulate the target gene expression at post-transcriptional level. They are widely involved in biological processes, such as embryonic development, cell division, differentiation, and apoptosis. Evidence suggests that miRNAs can constrain the variation of their target to buffer the fluctuation of expression. However, whether this effect can act on the genome-wide expression remains controversial.


In this study, we comprehensively explored the stably expressed genes (SE genes) and fluctuant genes (FL genes) in the human genome by a meta-analysis of large scale microarray data. We found that these genes have distinct function distributions. miRNA targets are shown to be significantly enriched in SE genes by using propensity analysis of miRNA regulation, supporting the hypothesis that miRNAs can buffer whole genome expression fluctuation. The expression-buffering effect of miRNA is independent of the target site number within the 3'-untranslated region. In addition, we found that gene expression fluctuation is positively correlated with the number of transcription factor binding sites in the promoter region, which suggests that coordination between transcription factors and miRNAs leads to balanced responses to external perturbations.


Our study confirmed that the genetic buffering roles of miRNAs can act on genome expression fluctuation and provides insights into how miRNAs and transcription factors coordinate to cope with external perturbation.