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Open Access Research article

Pre-profiling factors influencing serum microRNA levels

Sara A MacLellan1, Calum MacAulay1, Stephen Lam1 and Cathie Garnis12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Integrative Oncology, British Columbia Cancer Research Centre, Vancouver, BC, Canada

2 Department of Surgery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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BMC Clinical Pathology 2014, 14:27  doi:10.1186/1472-6890-14-27

Published: 21 June 2014

Abstract

Background

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are non-coding RNAs that negatively regulate gene expression by preventing the translation of specific mRNA transcripts. Recent studies have shown that miRNAs are stably expressed in human serum samples, making them good candidates for the non-invasive detection of disease. However, before circulating miRNAs can be used reliably as biomarkers of disease, the pre-measurement variables that may affect serum miRNA levels must be assessed.

Methods

In this study we used quantitative RT-PCR to examine the effect of hemolysis, fasting, and smoking on the levels of 742 miRNAs in the serum of healthy individuals. We also compared serum miRNA profiles of samples taken from healthy individuals over different time periods to assess normal serum miRNA fluctuations.

Results

We have found that mechanical hemolysis of blood samples can significantly alter serum miRNA quantification and have identified 162 miRNAs that are significantly up-regulated in hemolysed serum samples. Conversely, fasting and smoking were demonstrated to not have a significant effect on the overall serum miRNA profiles of healthy individuals. The serum miRNA profiles of matched samples taken from individuals over varying time periods showed a high correlation and no miRNAs were significantly differentially expressed in these samples further suggesting the utility of serum miRNAs as biomarkers of disease. Taking the above results into consideration, we have identified miR-99a-5p and miR-139-5p as novel endogenous controls for serum miRNA studies due to their consistency across all sample sets.

Conclusion

These results identify important pre-profiling factors that should be taken into consideration when identifying endogenous controls and candidate biomarkers for circulating miRNA studies.

Keywords:
MicroRNA; Cancer; Biomarker; Serum; miR-99a-5p; miR-139-5p