Dysregulation of microRNAs in colonic field carcinogenesis: implications for screening

PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45591. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045591. Epub 2012 Sep 25.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening tests often have a trade-off between efficacy and patient acceptability/cost. Fecal tests (occult blood, methylation) engender excellent patient compliance but lack requisite performance underscoring the need for better population screening tests. We assessed the utility of microRNAs (miRNAs) as markers of field carcinogenesis and their potential role for CRC screening using the azoxymethane (AOM)-treated rat model. We found that 63 miRNAs were upregulated and miR-122, miR-296-5p and miR-503# were downregulated in the uninvolved colonic mucosa of AOM rats. We monitored the expression of selected miRNAs in colonic biopsies of AOM rats at 16 weeks and correlated it with tumor development. We noted that the tumor bearing rats had significantly greater miRNA modulation compared to those without tumors. The miRNAs showed good diagnostic performance with an area under the receiver operator curve (AUROC) of >0.7. We also noted that the miRNA induction in the colonic mucosa was mirrorred in the mucus layer fecal colonocytes isolated from AOM rat stool and the degree of miRNA induction was greater in the tumor bearing rats compared to those without tumors. Lastly, we also noted significant miRNA modulation in the Pirc rats- the genetic model of colon carcinogenesis, both in the uninvolved colonic mucosa and the fecal colonocytes. We thus demonstrate that miRNAs are excellent markers of field carcinogenesis and could accurately predict future neoplasia. Based on our results, we propose an accurate, inexpensive, non-invasive miRNA test for CRC risk stratification based on rectal brushings or from abraded fecal colonocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Area Under Curve
  • Azoxymethane
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Carcinogens
  • Carcinoma / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma / genetics*
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Colonic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Down-Regulation
  • Early Detection of Cancer*
  • Feces / cytology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Rats
  • Up-Regulation


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carcinogens
  • MicroRNAs
  • Azoxymethane