Identification and characterization of microRNAs and their putative target genes in Anopheles funestus s.s
Ali, Mushal Allam Mohamed Alhaj
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The discovery of microRNAs (miRNAs) is one of the most exciting scientific breakthroughs in the last decade. miRNAs are short RNA molecules that do not encode proteins but instead, regulate gene expression. Over the past several years, thousands of miRNAs have been identified in various insect genomes through cloning and sequencing, and even by computational prediction. However, information concerning possible roles of miRNAs in mosquitoes is limited. Within this context, we report here the first systematic analysis of these tiny RNAs and their target mRNAs in one of the principal African malaria vectors, Anopheles funestus s.s. Firstly, to extend the known repertoire of miRNAs expressed in this insect, the small RNAs from the four developmental stages (egg, larvae, pupae and the adult females), were sequenced using next generation sequencing technology. A total of 98 miRNAs were identified, which included 65 known Anopheles miRNAs, 25 miRNAs conserved in other insects and 8 novel miRNAs that had not been reported in any species. We further characterized new variants for miR-2 and miR-927 and stem-loop precursors for miR-286 and miR-2944. The analysis showed that many miRNAs have stage-specific expression, and co-transcribed and co-regulated during development. Secondly, for a better understanding of the molecular details of the miRNAs function, we identified the target genes for the Anopheles miRNAs using a novel approach that identifies overlap genes among three target prediction tools followed by filtering genes based on functional enrichment of GO terms and KEGG pathways. We found that most of the miRNAs are metabolic regulators. Moreover, the results suggest implication of some miRNAs not only in the development but also in insect-parasite interaction. Finally, we developed the InsecTar database (http://insectar.sanbi.ac.za) for miRNA targets in the three mosquito species; Anopheles gambiae, Aedes aegypti, and Culex quinquefasciatus, which incorporates prediction and the functional analysis of these target genes. The proposed database will undoubtedly assist to explore the roles of these regulatory molecules in insects. This type of analysis is a key step towards improving our understanding of the complexity and regulationmode of miRNAs in mosquitoes. Moreover, this study opens the door for exploration of miRNA in regulation of critical physiological functions specific to vector arthropods which may lead to novel approaches to combat mosquito-borne infectious diseases.