Background: microRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that are frequently involved in carcinogenesis. Although many miRNAs form part of integrated networks, little information is available how they interact with each other to control cellular processes. miR-34a and miR-15a/16 are functionally related; they share common targets and control similar processes including G1-S cell cycle progression and apoptosis. The aim of this study was to investigate the combined action of miR-34a and miR-15a/16 in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells.
Methods: NSCLC cells were transfected with miR-34a and miR-15a/16 mimics and analysed for cell cycle arrest and apoptosis by flow cytometry. Expression of retinoblastoma and cyclin E1 was manipulated to investigate the role of these proteins in miRNA-induced cell cycle arrest. Expression of miRNA targets was assessed by real-time PCR. To investigate if both miRNAs are co-regulated in NSCLC cells, tumour tissue and matched normal lung tissue from 23 patients were collected by laser capture microdissection and compared for the expression of these miRNAs by real-time PCR.
Results: In the present study, we demonstrate that miR-34a and miR-15a/16 act synergistically to induce cell cycle arrest in a Rb-dependent manner. In contrast, no synergistic effect of these miRNAs was observed for apoptosis. The synergistic action on cell cycle arrest was not due to a more efficient down-regulation of targets common to both miRNAs. However, the synergistic effect was abrogated in cells in which cyclin E1, a target unique to miR-15a/16, was silenced by RNA interference. Thus, the synergistic effect was due to the fact that in concerted action both miRNAs are able to down-regulate more targets involved in cell cycle control than each miRNA alone. Both miRNAs were significantly co-regulated in adenocarcinomas of the lung suggesting a functional link between these miRNAs.
Conclusions: In concerted action miRNAs are able to potentiate their impact on G1-S progression. Thus the combination of miRNAs of the same network rather than individual miRNAs should be considered for assessing a biological response. Since miR-34a and miR-15a/16 are frequently down-regulated in the same tumour tissue, administrating a combination of both miRNAs may also potentiate their therapeutic impact.