MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, abundant, noncoding RNAs that modulate protein abundance by interfering with target mRNA translation or stability. miRNAs are detected in organisms from all domains and may regulate 30% of transcripts in vertebrates. Understanding miRNA function requires a detailed determination of expression, yet this has not been reported in an amniote species. High-throughput whole mount in situ hybridization was performed on chicken embryos to map expression of 135 miRNA genes including five miRNAs that had not been previously reported in chicken. Eighty-four miRNAs were detected before day 5 of embryogenesis, and 75 miRNAs showed differential expression. Whereas few miRNAs were expressed during formation of the primary germ layers, the number of miRNAs detected increased rapidly during organogenesis. Patterns highlighted cell-type, organ or structure-specific expression, localization within germ layers and their derivatives, and expression in multiple cell and tissue types and within sub-regions of structures and tissues. A novel group of miRNAs was highly expressed in most tissues but much reduced in one or a few organs, including the heart. This study presents the first comprehensive overview of miRNA expression in an amniote organism and provides an important foundation for investigations of miRNA gene regulation and function.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.