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This article is part of the supplement: Twelfth International Conference on Bioinformatics (InCoB2013): Computational Biology

Open Access Research

Understanding cooperativity of microRNAs via microRNA association networks

Young-Ji Na1* and Ju Han Kim12

Author Affiliations

1 Seoul National University Biomedical Informatics (SNUBI), Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul 110-799, Korea

2 Division of Biomedical Informatics, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul 110-799, Korea

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14(Suppl 5):S17  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-S5-S17

Published: 16 October 2013



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are key components in post-transcriptional gene regulation in multicellular organisms. As they control cooperatively a large number of their target genes, they affect the complexity of gene regulation. One of the challenges to understand miRNA-mediated regulation is to identify co-regulating miRNAs that simultaneously regulate their target genes in a network perspective.


We created miRNA association network by using miRNAs sharing target genes based on sequence complementarity and co-expression patterns of miRNA-target pairs. The degree of association between miRNAs can be assessed by the level of concordance between targets of miRNAs. Cooperatively regulating miRNAs have been identified by network topology-based approach. Cooperativity of miRNAs is evaluated by their shared transcription factors and functional coherence of target genes. Pathway enrichment analysis of target genes in the cooperatively regulating miRNAs revealed the mutually exclusive functional landscape of miRNA cooperativity. In addition, we found that one miRNA in the miRNA association network could be involved in many cooperatively regulating miRNAs in a condition-specific and combinatorial manner. Sequence and structural similarity analysis within miRNA association network showed that pre-miRNA secondary structure may be involved in the expression of mature miRNA's function.


On the system level, we identified cooperatively regulating miRNAs in the miRNA association network. We showed that the secondary structures of pre-miRNAs in cooperatively regulating miRNAs are highly similar. This study demonstrates the potential importance of the secondary structures of pre-miRNAs in both cooperativity and specificity of target genes.

association network; cooperativity; co-transcriptomic expression profile; microRNA; module