MicroRNA expression profiles in molecular subtypes of clear-cell renal cell carcinoma are associated with clinical outcome and repression of specific mRNA targets

PLoS One. 2020 Sep 11;15(9):e0238809. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238809. eCollection 2020.


Clear-cell renal cell carcinomas (ccRCC) can be divided into four transcriptomic subtypes, two of which have a favorable and two an unfavorable prognosis. To assess mechanisms driving these subtypes, we investigated their miRNA expression patterns. miRNAs are master regulators of mRNAs, that are widely deregulated in cancer. Unsupervised clustering in our dataset (n = 128) and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) validation set identified two distinct miRNA clusters that overlapped with the transcriptomic subtypes, underscoring the validity of these subtypes on a multi-omics level and suggesting a driving role for miRNAs. Discriminatory miRNAs for the favorable subtypes repressed epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, based on gene set enrichment analysis and target-mRNA expression levels. Strikingly, throughout the entire dataset, miRNAs associated with favorable subtypes were also associated with longer overall survival after diagnosis, and miRNAs associated with unfavorable subtypes with shorter overall survival (Pearson r = -0.54, p<0.0001). These findings indicate a general shift in miRNA expression between more and less aggressive tumors. This adds to current literature, which usually suggests only a small subset of miRNAs as markers of aggressive disease. In conclusion, this study reveals distinct mRNA expression patterns underlying transcriptomic ccRCC-subtypes, whereby miRNAs associated with favorable subtypes counteract epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. There is a general shift in miRNA expression in ccRCC, between more and less aggressive tumors.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Humans
  • Indazoles
  • Kidney Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Kidney Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Pyrimidines / therapeutic use
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology
  • Sulfonamides / therapeutic use
  • Sunitinib / pharmacology
  • Sunitinib / therapeutic use
  • Survival Analysis


  • Indazoles
  • MicroRNAs
  • Pyrimidines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Sulfonamides
  • pazopanib
  • Sunitinib

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.