Public Library of Science
Background Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) is among the economically most important species in the northern Atlantic Ocean and a model species for studying development of the immune system in vertebrates. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are an abundant class of small RNA molecules that regulate fundamental biological processes at the post-transcriptional level. Detailed knowledge about a species miRNA repertoire is necessary to study how the miRNA transcriptome modulate gene expression.We have therefore discovered and characterized mature miRNAs and their corresponding miRNA genes in Atlantic cod. We have also performed a validation study to identify suitable reference genes for RT-qPCR analysis of miRNA expression in Atlantic cod. Finally, we utilized the newly characterized miRNA repertoire and the dedicated RT-qPCR method to reveal miRNAs that are highly expressed in certain organs. Results The discovery analysis revealed 490 mature miRNAs (401 unique sequences) along with precursor sequences and genomic location of the miRNA genes. Twenty six of these were novel miRNA genes. Validation studies ranked gmo-miR-17-1—5p or the two-gene combination gmo-miR25-3p and gmo-miR210-5p as most suitable qPCR reference genes. Analysis by RT-qPCR revealed 45 miRNAs with significantly higher expression in tissues from one or a few organs. Comparisons to other vertebrates indicate that some of these miRNAs may regulate processes like growth, lipid metabolism, immune response to microbial infections and scar damage repair. Three teleost-specific and three novel Atlantic cod miRNAs were among the differentially expressed miRNAs. Conclusions The number of known mature miRNAs was considerably increased by our identification of miRNAs and miRNA genes in Atlantic cod. This will benefit further functional studies of miRNA expression using deep sequencing methods. The validation study showed that stable miRNAs are suitable reference genes for RT-qPCR analysis of miRNA expression. Applying RT-qPCR we have identified several miRNAs likely to have important regulatory functions in particular organs.
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