Mi-IsoNet: Systems-scale microRNA landscape reveals rampant isoform-mediated gain of target interaction diversity and signaling specificity

Li Guo, Yongsheng Li, Kara M. Cirillo, Robert A. Marick, Zhe Su, Xing Yin, Xu Hua, Gordon B. Mills, Nidhi Sahni, S. Stephen Yi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


MicroRNA (miRNA) is not a single sequence, but a series of multiple variants (also termed isomiRs) with sequence and expression heterogeneity. Whether and how these isoforms contribute to functional variation and complexity at the systems and network levels remain largely unknown. To explore this question systematically, we comprehensively analyzed the expression of small RNAs and their target sites to interrogate functional variations between novel isomiRs and their canonical miRNA sequences. Our analyses of the pan-cancer landscape of miRNA expression indicate that multiple isomiRs generated from the same miRNA locus often exhibit remarkable variation in their sequence, expression and function. We interrogated abundant and differentially expressed 5′ isomiRs with novel seed sequences via seed shifting and identified many potential novel targets of these 5′ isomiRs that would expand interaction capabilities between small RNAs and mRNAs, rewiring regulatory networks and increasing signaling circuit complexity. Further analyses revealed that some miRNA loci might generate diverse dominant isomiRs that often involved isomiRs with varied seeds and arm-switching, suggesting a selective advantage of multiple isomiRs in regulating gene expression. Finally, experimental validation indicated that isomiRs with shifted seed sequences could regulate novel target mRNAs and therefore contribute to regulatory network rewiring. Our analysis uncovers a widespread expansion of isomiR and mRNA interaction networks compared with those seen in canonical small RNA analysis; this expansion suggests global gene regulation network perturbations by alternative small RNA variants or isoforms. Taken together, the variations in isomiRs that occur during miRNA processing and maturation are likely to play a far more complex and plastic role in gene regulation than previously anticipated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberbbab091
JournalBriefings in bioinformatics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


  • functional diversity
  • gain of interactions
  • gene regulatory networks
  • isoforms
  • microRNA (miRNA)
  • signaling specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Molecular Biology


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