BACKGROUND: Cleft lip (CL), one of the most common congenital birth defects, shows considerable geographic and ethnic variation, with contribution of both genetic and environmental factors. Mouse genetic studies have identified several CL-associated genes. However, it remains elusive how these CL-associated genes are regulated and involved in CL. Environmental factors may regulate these genes at the post-transcriptional level through the regulation of non-coding microRNAs (miRNAs). In this study, we sought to identify miRNAs associated with CL in mice.
RESULTS: Through a systematic literature review and a Mouse Genome Informatics (MGI) database search, we identified 55 genes that were associated with CL in mice. Subsequent bioinformatic analysis of these genes predicted that a total of 33 miRNAs target multiple CL-associated genes, with 20 CL-associated genes being potentially regulated by multiple miRNAs. To experimentally validate miRNA function in cell proliferation, we conducted cell proliferation/viability assays for the selected five candidate miRNAs (miR-124-3p, let-7a-5p, let-7b-5p, let-7c-5p, and let-7d-5p). Overexpression of miR-124-3p, but not of the others, inhibited cell proliferation through suppression of CL-associated genes in cultured mouse embryonic lip mesenchymal cells (MELM cells) isolated from the developing mouse lip region. By contrast, miR-124-3p knockdown had no effect on MELM cell proliferation. This miRNA-gene regulatory mechanism was mostly conserved in O9-1 cells, an established cranial neural crest cell line. Expression of miR-124-3p was low in the maxillary processes at E10.5, when lip mesenchymal cells proliferate, whereas it was greatly increased at later developmental stages, suggesting that miR-124-3p expression is suppressed during the proliferation phase in normal palate development.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that upregulated miR-124-3p inhibits cell proliferation in cultured lip cells through suppression of CL-associated genes. These results will have a significant impact, not only on our knowledge about lip morphogenesis, but also on the development of clinical approaches for the diagnosis and prevention of CL.