Characterization of novel primary miRNA transcription units in human cells using Bru-seq nascent RNA sequencing

NAR Genom Bioinform. 2020 Mar;2(1):lqz014. doi: 10.1093/nargab/lqz014. Epub 2019 Oct 30.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are key contributors to gene regulatory networks. Because miRNAs are processed from RNA polymerase II transcripts, insight into miRNA regulation requires a comprehensive understanding of the regulation of primary miRNA transcripts. We used Bru-seq nascent RNA sequencing and hidden Markov model segmentation to map primary miRNA transcription units (TUs) across 32 human cell lines, allowing us to describe TUs encompassing 1443 miRNAs from miRBase and 438 from MirGeneDB. We identified TUs for 61 miRNAs with an unknown CAGE TSS signal for MirGeneDB miRNAs. Many primary transcripts containing miRNA sequences failed to generate mature miRNAs, suggesting that miRNA biosynthesis is under both transcriptional and post-transcriptional control. In addition to constitutive and cell-type specific TU expression regulated by differential promoter usage, miRNA synthesis can be regulated by transcription past polyadenylation sites (transcriptional read through) and promoter divergent transcription (PROMPTs). We identified 197 miRNA TUs with novel promoters, 97 with transcriptional read-throughs and 3 miRNA TUs that resemble PROMPTs in at least one cell line. The miRNA TU annotation data resource described here reveals a greater complexity in miRNA regulation than previously known and provides a framework for identifying cell-type specific differences in miRNA transcription in cancer and cell transition states.