Direct Detection of miR-122 in Hepatotoxicity Using Dynamic Chemical Labeling Overcomes Stability and isomiR Challenges

Anal Chem. 2020 Feb 18;92(4):3388-3395. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.9b05449. Epub 2020 Jan 27.


Circulating microRNAs are biomarkers reported to be stable and translational across species. MicroRNA-122 (miR-122) is a hepatocyte-specific microRNA biomarker for drug-induced liver injury (DILI). We developed a single molecule, dynamic chemical labeling (DCL) assay to directly detect miR-122 in blood. The DCL assay specifically measured miR-122 directly from 10 μL of serum or plasma without any extraction steps, with a limit of detection of 1.32 pM that enabled the identification of DILI. Testing of 192 human serum samples showed that DCL accurately identified patients at risk of DILI after acetaminophen overdose (area under ROC curve 0.98 (95% CI; 0.96-1), P < 0.0001). The DCL assay also identified liver injury in rats and dogs. The use of specific captured beads had the additional benefit of stabilizing miR-122 after sample collection, with no signal loss after 14 days at room temperature, in contrast to PCR that showed significant loss of signal. RNA sequencing demonstrated the presence of multiple miR-122 isomiRs in the serum of patients with DILI that were at low concentration or not present in healthy individuals. Sample degradation over time produced more isomiRs, particularly rapidly with DILI. PCR was inaccurate when analyzing miR-122 isomiRs, whereas the DCL assay demonstrated accurate quantification. We conclude that the DCL assay can accurately measure miR-122 to diagnose liver injury in humans and other species and can overcome microRNA stability and isomiR challenges.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / administration & dosage
  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury
  • Dogs
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Rats
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • MIRN122 microRNA, human
  • MIRN122 microRNA, rat
  • MicroRNAs
  • Acetaminophen