Target mRNA abundance dilutes microRNA and siRNA activity

Mol Syst Biol. 2010 Apr 20;6:363. doi: 10.1038/msb.2010.24.


Post-transcriptional regulation by microRNAs and siRNAs depends not only on characteristics of individual binding sites in target mRNA molecules, but also on system-level properties such as overall molecular concentrations. We hypothesize that an intracellular pool of microRNAs/siRNAs faced with a larger number of available predicted target transcripts will downregulate each individual target gene to a lesser extent. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed mRNA expression change from 178 microRNA and siRNA transfection experiments in two cell lines. We find that downregulation of particular genes mediated by microRNAs and siRNAs indeed varies with the total concentration of available target transcripts. We conclude that to interpret and design experiments involving gene regulation by small RNAs, global properties, such as target mRNA abundance, need to be considered in addition to local determinants. We propose that analysis of microRNA/siRNA targeting would benefit from a more quantitative definition, rather than simple categorization of genes as 'target' or 'not a target.' Our results are important for understanding microRNA regulation and may also have implications for siRNA design and small RNA therapeutics.

MeSH terms

  • Down-Regulation*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Models, Genetic
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*
  • Transfection


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering