Background: Changes in microRNA (miRNA) expression patterns have been extensively characterized in several cancers, including human colon cancer. However, how these miRNAs and their putative mRNA targets contribute to the etiology of cancer is poorly understood. In this work, a bioinformatics computational approach with miRNA and mRNA expression data was used to identify the putative targets of miRNAs and to construct association networks between miRNAs and mRNAs to gain some insights into the underlined molecular mechanisms of human colon cancer. Method. The miRNA and mRNA microarray expression profiles from the same tissues including 7 human colon tumor tissues and 4 normal tissues, collected by the Broad Institute, were used to identify significant associations between miRNA and mRNA. We applied the partial least square (PLS) regression method and bootstrap based statistical tests to the joint expression profiles of differentially expressed miRNAs and mRNAs. From this analysis, we predicted putative miRNA targets and association networks between miRNAs and mRNAs. Pathway analysis was employed to identify biological processes related to these miRNAs and their associated predicted mRNA targets. Results: Most significantly associated up-regulated mRNAs with a down-regulated miRNA identified by the proposed methodology were considered to be the miRNA targets. On average, approximately 16.5% and 11.0% of targets predicted by this approach were also predicted as targets by the common prediction algorithms TargetScan and miRanda, respectively. We demonstrated that our method detects more targets than a simple correlation based association. Integrative mRNA:miRNA predictive networks from our analysis were constructed with the aid of Cytoscape software. Pathway analysis validated the miRNAs through their predicted targets that may be involved in cancer-associated biological networks. Conclusion: We have identified an alternative bioinformatics approach for predicting miRNA targets in human colon cancer and for reverse engineering the miRNA:mRNA network using inversely related mRNA and miRNA joint expression profiles. We demonstrated the superiority of our predictive method compared to the correlation based target prediction algorithm through a simulation study. We anticipate that the unique miRNA targets predicted by the proposed method will advance the understanding of the molecular mechanism of colon cancer and will suggest novel therapeutic targets after further experimental validations.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We would like to thank Dr. Timothy O’Toole for assistance with manuscript preparation. This work was supported by NSF-DMS-0805559 (S.Datta), NIH-CA133844 (S.Datta), and P20RR16481 (N.G.Cooper). The assistance of the Bioinformatics, Biostatistics and Computational Biology-Core in the Center for Genomics and Integrative Biology, supported by 1P30ES014443, is also gratefully acknowledged.