MicroRNA-Mediated Regulation of Initial Host Responses in a Symbiotic Organ

mSystems. 2021 May 11;6(3):e00081-21. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00081-21.


One of the most important events in an animal's life history is the initial colonization by its microbial symbionts, yet little is known about this event's immediate impacts on the extent of host gene expression or the molecular mechanisms controlling it. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, noncoding RNAs that bind to target mRNAs, rapidly shaping gene expression by posttranscriptional control of mRNA translation and decay. Here, we show that, in the experimentally tractable binary squid-vibrio symbiosis, colonization of the light organ induces extensive changes in the miRNA transcriptome. Examination of the squid genome revealed the presence of evolutionarily conserved genes encoding elements essential for the production and processing of miRNAs. At 24 h postcolonization, 215 host miRNAs were detected in the light organ, 26 of which were differentially expressed in response to the symbionts. A functional enrichment analysis of genes potentially targeted by downregulation of certain miRNAs at the initiation of symbiosis revealed two major gene ontology (GO) term categories, neurodevelopment and tissue remodeling. This symbiont-induced downregulation is predicted to promote these activities in host tissues and is consistent with the well-described tissue remodeling that occurs at the onset of the association. Conversely, predicted targets of upregulated miRNAs, including the production of mucus, are consistent with attenuation of immune responses by symbiosis. Taken together, our data provide evidence that, at the onset of symbiosis, host miRNAs in the light organ drive alterations in gene expression that (i) orchestrate the symbiont-induced development of host tissues, and (ii) facilitate the partnership by dampening the immune response.IMPORTANCE Animals often acquire their microbiome from the environment at each generation, making the initial interaction of the partners a critical event in the establishment and development of a stable, healthy symbiosis. However, the molecular nature of these earliest interactions is generally difficult to study and poorly understood. We report that, during the initial 24 h of the squid-vibrio association, a differential expression of host miRNAs is triggered by the presence of the microbial partner. Predicted mRNA targets of these miRNAs were associated with regulatory networks that drive tissue remodeling and immune suppression, two major symbiosis-induced developmental outcomes in this and many other associations. These results implicate regulation by miRNAs as key to orchestrating the critical transcriptional responses that occur very early during the establishment of a symbiosis. Animals with more complex microbiota may have similar miRNA-driven responses as their association is initiated, supporting an evolutionary conservation of symbiosis-induced developmental mechanisms.

Keywords: Euprymna scolopes; Vibrio fischeri; development; developmental biology; immune response; noncoding RNA; symbiosis onset.