Unintentional miRNA ablation is a risk factor in gene knockout studies: a short report.
PLoS Genet. 2008 Feb . 4(2):e34.
One of the most powerful techniques for studying the function of a gene is to disrupt the expression of that gene using genetic engineering strategies such as targeted recombination or viral integration of gene trap cassettes. The tremendous utility of these tools was recognized this year with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Capecchi, Evans, and Smithies for their pioneering work in targeted recombination mutagenesis in mammals. Another noteworthy discovery made nearly a decade ago was the identification of a novel class of non-coding genes called microRNAs. MicroRNAs are among the largest known classes of regulatory elements with more than 1000 predicted to exist in the mouse genome. Over 50% of known microRNAs are located within introns of coding genes. Given that currently about half of the genes in mouse have been knocked out, we investigated the possibility that intronic microRNAs may have been coincidentally deleted or disrupted in some of these mouse models. We searched published murine knockout studies and gene trap embryonic stem cell line databases for cases where a microRNA was located within or near the manipulated genomic loci, finding almost 200 cases where microRNA expression may have been disrupted along with another gene. Our results draw attention to the need for careful planning in future knockout studies to minimize the unintentional disruption of microRNAs. These data also raise the possibility that many knockout studies may need to be reexamined to determine if loss of a microRNA contributes to the phenotypic consequences attributed to loss of a protein-encoding gene.