Macrophages are among the first cells to respond to infection and disease. While microRNAs (miRNAs) are involved in the process of monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation in mammals, less is known in teleost fish. Here, Atlantic salmon head kidney leukocytes (HKLs) were used to study the expression of miRNAs in response to in vitro culture. The morphological analysis of cultures showed predominantly monocyte-like cells on Day 1 and macrophage-like cells on Day 5, suggesting that the HKLs had differentiated from monocytes to macrophages. Day 5 HKLs also contained a higher percentage of phagocytic cells. Small RNA sequencing and qPCR analysis were applied to examine the miRNA diversity and expression. There were 370 known mature Atlantic salmon miRNAs in HKLs. Twenty-two miRNAs (15 families) were downregulated while 44 miRNAs (25 families) were upregulated on Day 5 vs. Day 1. Mammalian orthologs of many of the differentially expressed (DE) miRNAs are known to regulate macrophage activation and differentiation, while the teleost-specific miR-2188, miR-462 and miR-731 were also DE and are associated with immune responses in fish. In silico predictions identified several putative target genes of qPCR-validated miRNAs associated with vertebrate macrophage differentiation. This study identified Atlantic salmon miRNAs likely to influence macrophage differentiation, providing important knowledge for future functional studies.
Keywords: Atlantic salmon; cell differentiation; head kidney culture; macrophages; miRNA; sequencing.