A strategic expression method of miR-29b and its anti-fibrotic effect based on RNA-sequencing analysis

PLoS One. 2020 Dec 17;15(12):e0244065. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0244065. eCollection 2020.


Tissue fibrosis is a significant health issue associated with organ dysfunction and failure. Increased deposition of collagen and other extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins in the interstitial area is a major process in tissue fibrosis. The microRNA-29 (miR-29) family has been demonstrated as anti-fibrotic microRNAs. Our recent work showed that dysregulation of miR-29 contributes to the formation of cardiac fibrosis in animal models of uremic cardiomyopathy, whereas replenishing miR-29 attenuated cardiac fibrosis in these animals. However, excessive overexpression of miR-29 is a concern because microRNAs usually have multiple targets, which could result in unknown and unexpected side effect. In the current study, we constructed a novel Col1a1-miR-29b vector using collagen 1a1 (Col1a1) promoter, which can strategically express miR-29b-3p (miR-29b) in response to increased collagen synthesis and reach a dynamic balance between collagen and miR-29b. Our experimental results showed that in mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF cells) transfected with Col1a1-miR-29b vector, the miR-29b expression is about 1000 times less than that in cells transfected with CMV-miR-29b vector, which uses cytomegalovirus (CMV) as a promoter for miR-29b expression. Moreover, TGF-β treatment increased the miR-29b expression by about 20 times in cells transfected with Col1a1-miR-29b, suggesting a dynamic response to fibrotic stimulation. Western blot using cell lysates and culture media demonstrated that transfection of Col1a1-miR-29b vector significantly reduced TGF-β induced collagen synthesis and secretion, and the effect was as effective as the CMV-miR-29b vector. Using RNA-sequencing analysis, we found that 249 genes were significantly altered (180 upregulated and 69 downregulated, at least 2-fold change and adjusted p-value <0.05) after TGF-β treatment in MEF cells transfected with empty vector. The Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathway analysis using GAGE R-package showed that the top 5 upregulated pathways after TGF-β treatment were mostly fibrosis-related, including focal adhesion, ECM reaction, and TGF-β signaling pathways. As expected, transfection of Col1a1-miR-29b or CMV-miR-29b vector partially reversed the activation of these pathways. We also analyzed the expression pattern of the top 100 miR-29b targeting genes in these cells using the RNA-sequencing data. We identified that miR-29b targeted a broad spectrum of ECM genes, but the inhibition effect is mostly moderate. In summary, our work demonstrated that the Col1a1-miR-29b vector can be used as a dynamic regulator of collagen and other ECM protein expression in response to fibrotic stimulation, which could potentially reduce unnecessary side effect due to excessive miR-29b levels while remaining an effective potential therapeutic approach for fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Collagen Type I / biosynthesis
  • Collagen Type I / genetics
  • Collagen Type I, alpha 1 Chain
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / pathology
  • Extracellular Matrix / genetics
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Fibrosis
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / biosynthesis*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • RNA-Seq*


  • Collagen Type I
  • Collagen Type I, alpha 1 Chain
  • MIRN29 microRNA, mouse
  • MicroRNAs