DOI: 10.1186/s12920-022-01243-7">

SARS-COV-2 as potential microRNA sponge in COVID-19 patients

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BMC Medical Genomics


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small non-coding RNA that can downregulate their targets by selectively binding to the 3′ untranslated region (3′UTR) of most messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in the human genome. MiRNAs can interact with other molecules such as viruses and act as a mediator for viral infection. In this study, we examined whether, and to what extent, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can serve as a “sponge” for human miRNAs.

We identified multiple potential miRNA/target pairs that may be disrupted during SARS-CoV-2 infection. Using miRNA expression profiles and RNA-seq from published studies, we further identified a highly confident list of 5 miRNA/target pairs that could be disrupted by the virus’s miRNA sponge effect, namely hsa-miR-374a-5p/APOL6, hsa-let-7f-1-3p/EIF4A2, hsa-miR-374a-3p/PARP11, hsa-miR-548d-3p/PSMA2 and hsa-miR-23b-3p/ZNFX1 pairs. Using single-cell RNA-sequencing based data, we identified two important miRNAs, hsa-miR-302c-5p and hsa-miR-16-5p, to be potential virus targeting miRNAs across multiple cell types from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples. We further validated some of our findings using miRNA and gene enrichment analyses and the results confirmed with findings from previous studies that some of these identified miRNA/target pairs are involved in ACE2 receptor network, regulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and in immune cell maturation and differentiation.

Using publicly available databases and patient-related expression data, we found that acting as a “miRNA sponge” could be one explanation for SARS-CoV-2-mediated pathophysiological changes. This study provides a novel way of utilizing SARS-CoV-2 related data, with bioinformatics approaches, to help us better understand the etiology of the disease and its differential manifestation across individuals.

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DOI: 10.1186/s12920-022-01243-7