Origin, evolution, and biological role of miRNA cluster in DLK-DIO3 genomic region in placental mammals

Mol Biol Evol. 2008 May;25(5):939-48. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn045. Epub 2008 Feb 14.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a rapidly growing family of small regulatory RNAs modulating gene expression in plants and animals. In animals, most of the miRNAs discovered in early studies were found to be evolutionarily conserved across the whole kingdom. More recent studies, however, have identified many miRNAs that are specific to a particular group of organisms or even a single species. These present a question about evolution of the individual miRNAs and their role in establishing and maintaining lineage-specific functions and characteristics. In this study, we describe a detailed analysis of the miRNA cluster (hereafter mir-379/mir-656 cluster) located within the imprinted DLK-DIO3 region on human chromosome 14. We show that orthologous miRNA clusters are present in all sequenced genomes of the placental (eutherian) mammals but not in the marsupial (metatherian), monotreme (prototherian), or any other vertebrate genomes. We provide evidence that the locus encompassing this cluster emerged in an early eutherian ancestor prior to the radiation of modern placental mammals by tandem duplication of the ancient precursor sequence. The original amplified cluster may have contained in excess of 250 miRNA precursor sequences, most of which now appear to be inactive. Examination of the eutherian genomes showed that the cluster has been maintained in evolution for approximately 100 Myr. Analysis of genes that contain predicted evolutionarily conserved targets for miRNAs from this cluster revealed significant overrepresentation of the Gene Ontology terms associated with biological processes such as neurogenesis, embryonic development, transcriptional regulation, and RNA metabolism. Consistent with these findings, a survey of the miRNA expression data within the cluster demonstrates a strong bias toward brain and placenta samples from adult organisms and some embryonic tissues. Our results suggest that emergence of the mir-379/mir-656 miRNA cluster was one of the factors that facilitated evolution of the placental mammals. Overrepresentation of genes involved in regulation of neurogenesis among predicted miRNAs targets indicates an important role of the mir-379/mir-656 cluster in this biological process in the placental mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 14
  • Dogs
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Amplification
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / physiology*
  • Multigene Family*
  • Opossums
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Rats
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Tetraodontiformes


  • MicroRNAs