The role of miRNA and miRNA biogenesis genes in the adult brain is just beginning to be explored. In this study we have performed a comprehensive analysis of the expression, genetic regulation, and co-expression of major components of the miRNA biogenesis pathway using human and mouse data sets and resources available on the GeneNetwork web site (genenetwork.org). We found a wide range of variation in expression in both species for key components of the pathway-Drosha, Pasha, and Dicer. Across species, tissues, and expression platforms all three genes are generally well-correlated. No single genetic locus exerts a strong and consistent influence on the expression of these key genes across murine brain regions. However, in mouse striatum, many members of the miRNA pathway are correlated-including Dicer, Drosha, Pasha, Ars2 (Srrt), Eif2c1 (Ago1), Eif2c2 (Ago2), Zcchc11, and Snip1. The expression of these genes may be partly influenced by a locus on Chromosome 9 (105.67-106.32 Mb). We explored ~1500 brain phenotypes available for the C57BL/6J × DBA/2J (BXD) genetic mouse population in order to identify miRNA biogenesis genes correlated with traits related to addiction and psychiatric disorders. We found a significant association between expression of Dicer and Drosha in several brain regions and the response to many drugs of abuse, including ethanol, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Expression of Dicer, Drosha, and Pasha in most of the brain regions explored is strongly correlated with the expression of key members of the dopamine system. Drosha, Pasha, and Dicer expression is also correlated with the expression of behavioral traits measuring depression and sensorimotor gating, impulsivity, and anxiety, respectively. Our study provides a global survey of the expression and regulation of key miRNA biogenesis genes in brain and provides preliminary support for the involvement of these genes and their product miRNAs in addiction and psychiatric disease processes.
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