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microRNA seedless sites attenuate strong-seed-site-mediated target repression

By Xujun Wang, Jingru Tian, Peng Cui, Stephen Mastriano, Dingyao Zhang, Hongyu Zhao, Hui Lu, Ye Ding, Jun Lu

Posted 11 Nov 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/837682

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate protein-coding gene expression primarily through cognitive binding sites in the 3'untranslated regions (3'UTRs). Seed sites are sequences in messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that form perfect Watson-Crick base-paring with a miRNA's seed region, which can effectively reduce mRNA abundance and/or repress protein translation. Some seedless sites, which do no form perfect seed-pairing with a miRNA, can also lead to target repression, often with lower efficacy. Here we report the surprising finding that when seedless sites and seed sites are co-present in the same 3'UTR, seedless sites attenuate strong-seed-site-mediated target suppression, independent of 3'UTR length. This attenuation effect is detectable in >70% of transcriptomic datasets examined, in which specific miRNAs are experimentally increased or decreased. The attenuation effect is confirmed by 3'UTR reporter assays and mediated through base-pairing between miRNA and seedless sites. Furthermore, this seedless-site-based attenuation effect could affect seed sites of the same miRNA or another miRNA, thus partially explaining the variability in target suppression and miRNA-mediated gene upregulation. Our findings reveal an unexpected principle of miRNA-mediated gene regulation, and could impact the understanding of many miRNA-regulated biological processes.

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