Background: Asbestos is a harmful and exceptionally persistent natural material. Malignant mesothelioma (MM), an asbestos-related disease, is an insidious, lethal cancer that is poorly responsive to current treatments. Minimally invasive, specific, and sensitive biomarkers providing early and effective diagnosis in high-risk patients are urgently needed. MicroRNAs (miRNAs, miRs) are endogenous, non-coding, small RNAs with established diagnostic value in cancer and pollution exposure. A systematic review and a qualitative meta-analysis were conducted to identify high-confidence miRNAs that can serve as biomarkers of asbestos exposure and MM.
Methods: The major biomedical databases were systematically searched for miRNA expression signatures related to asbestos exposure and MM. The qualitative meta-analysis applied a novel vote-counting method that takes into account multiple parameters. The most significant miRNAs thus identified were then subjected to functional and bioinformatic analysis to assess their biomarker potential.
Results: A pool of deregulated circulating and tissue miRNAs with biomarker potential for MM was identified and designated as "mesomiRs" (MM-associated miRNAs). Comparison of data from asbestos-exposed and MM subjects found that the most promising candidates for a multimarker signature were circulating miR-126-3p, miR-103a-3p, and miR-625-3p in combination with mesothelin. The most consistently described tissue miRNAs, miR-16-5p, miR-126-3p, miR-143-3p, miR-145-5p, miR-192-5p, miR-193a-3p, miR-200b-3p, miR-203a-3p, and miR-652-3p, were also found to provide a diagnostic signature and should be further investigated as possible therapeutic targets.
Conclusion: The qualitative meta-analysis and functional investigation confirmed the early diagnostic value of two miRNA signatures for MM. Large-scale, standardized validation studies are needed to assess their clinical relevance, so as to move from the workbench to the clinic.
Keywords: asbestos; biomarker; mesothelioma; microRNA; systematic review.