Distribution of miRNA expression across human tissues

Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 May 5;44(8):3865-77. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw116. Epub 2016 Feb 25.


We present a human miRNA tissue atlas by determining the abundance of 1997 miRNAs in 61 tissue biopsies of different organs from two individuals collected post-mortem. One thousand three hundred sixty-four miRNAs were discovered in at least one tissue, 143 were present in each tissue. To define the distribution of miRNAs, we utilized a tissue specificity index (TSI). The majority of miRNAs (82.9%) fell in a middle TSI range i.e. were neither specific for single tissues (TSI > 0.85) nor housekeeping miRNAs (TSI < 0.5). Nonetheless, we observed many different miRNAs and miRNA families that were predominantly expressed in certain tissues. Clustering of miRNA abundances revealed that tissues like several areas of the brain clustered together. Considering -3p and -5p mature forms we observed miR-150 with different tissue specificity. Analysis of additional lung and prostate biopsies indicated that inter-organism variability was significantly lower than inter-organ variability. Tissue-specific differences between the miRNA patterns appeared not to be significantly altered by storage as shown for heart and lung tissue. MiRNAs TSI values of human tissues were significantly (P = 10(-8)) correlated with those of rats; miRNAs that were highly abundant in certain human tissues were likewise abundant in according rat tissues. We implemented a web-based repository enabling scientists to access and browse the data (https://ccb-web.cs.uni-saarland.de/tissueatlas).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Databases, Nucleic Acid
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / classification
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Rats
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tissue Distribution


  • MicroRNAs