Optimal smoltification is crucial for normal development, growth, and health of farmed Atlantic salmon in seawater. Here, we characterize miRNA expression in liver to reveal whether miRNAs regulate gene expression during this developmental transition. Expression changes of miRNAs and mRNAs was studied by small-RNA sequencing and microarray analysis, respectively. This revealed 62 differentially expressed guide miRNAs (gDE-miRNAs) that could be divided into three groups with characteristic dynamic expression patterns. Three of miRNA families are known as highly expressed in liver. A rare arm shift was observed during smoltification in the Atlantic salmon-specific novel-ssa-miR-16. The gDE-miRNAs were predicted to target 2804 of the genes revealing expression changes in the microarray analysis. Enrichment analysis revealed that targets were significantly enriched in smoltification-associated biological process groups. These included lipid and cholesterol synthesis, carbohydrate metabolism, protein metabolism and protein transport, immune system genes, circadian rhythm and stress response. The results indicate that gDE-miRNAs may regulate many of the changes associated with this developmental transition in liver. The results pave the way for validation of the predicted target genes and further study of gDE-miRNA and their targets by functional assays.
Keywords: Atlantic salmon; liver; microRNAs; microarray transcriptome; seawater adaptation; small-RNA sequencing; smoltification.