The number of titrated microRNA species dictates ceRNA regulation

Nucleic Acids Res. 2018 May 18;46(9):4354-4369. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky286.


microRNAs (miRNAs) play key roles in cancer, but their propensity to couple their targets as competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs) has only recently emerged. Multiple models have studied ceRNA regulation, but these models did not account for the effects of co-regulation by miRNAs with many targets. We modeled ceRNA and simulated its effects using established parameters for miRNA/mRNA interaction kinetics while accounting for co-regulation by multiple miRNAs with many targets. Our simulations suggested that co-regulation by many miRNA species is more likely to produce physiologically relevant context-independent couplings. To test this, we studied the overlap of inferred ceRNA networks from four tumor contexts-our proposed pan-cancer ceRNA interactome (PCI). PCI was composed of interactions between genes that were co-regulated by nearly three-times as many miRNAs as other inferred ceRNA interactions. Evidence from expression-profiling datasets suggested that PCI interactions are predictive of gene expression in 12 independent tumor- and non-tumor contexts. Biochemical assays confirmed ceRNA couplings for two PCI subnetworks, including oncogenes CCND1, HIF1A and HMGA2, and tumor suppressors PTEN, RB1 and TP53. Our results suggest that PCI is enriched for context-independent interactions that are coupled by many miRNA species and are more likely to be context independent.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • RNA, Neoplasm / metabolism*


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Neoplasm