Uptake and Function Studies of Maternal Milk-derived MicroRNAs

J Biol Chem. 2015 Sep 25;290(39):23680-91. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.676734. Epub 2015 Aug 3.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators of cell-autonomous gene expression that influence many biological processes. They are also released from cells and are present in virtually all body fluids, including blood, urine, saliva, sweat, and milk. The functional role of nutritionally obtained extracellular miRNAs is controversial, and irrefutable demonstration of exogenous miRNA uptake by cells and canonical miRNA function is still lacking. Here we show that miRNAs are present at high levels in the milk of lactating mice. To investigate intestinal uptake of miRNAs in newborn mice, we employed genetic models in which newborn miR-375 and miR-200c/141 knockout mice received milk from wild-type foster mothers. Analysis of the intestinal epithelium, blood, liver, and spleen revealed no evidence for miRNA uptake. miR-375 levels in hepatocytes were at the limit of detection and remained orders of magnitude below the threshold for target gene regulation (between 1000 and 10,000 copies/cell). Furthermore, our study revealed rapid degradation of milk miRNAs in intestinal fluid. Together, our results indicate a nutritional rather than gene-regulatory role of miRNAs in the milk of newborn mice.

Keywords: absorption; gene expression; intestine; mammary gland; microRNA (miRNA); milk; nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • MicroRNAs / physiology
  • Milk*


  • MicroRNAs

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE70201