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Keywords:

  • Embryonic stem cells;
  • MicroRNA array;
  • MicroRNA;
  • Neurogenesis

Abstract

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are recently discovered small non-coding transcripts with a broad spectrum of functions described mostly in invertebrates. As post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression, miRNAs trigger target mRNA degradation or translational repression. Although hundreds of miRNAs have been cloned from a variety of mammalian tissues and cells and multiple mRNA targets have been predicted, little is known about their functions. So far, a role of miRNA has only been described in hematopoietic, adipocytic, and muscle differentiation; regulation of insulin secretion; and potentially regulation of cancer growth. Here, we describe miRNA expression profiling in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cell– derived neurogenesis in vitro and show that a number of miRNAs are simultaneously co-induced during differentiation of neural progenitor cells to neurons and astrocytes. There was a clear correlation between miRNA expression profiles in ES cell– derived neurogenesis in vitro and in embryonal neurogenesis in vivo. Using both gain-of-function and loss-of-function approaches, we demonstrate that brain-specific miR-124a and miR-9 molecules affect neural lineage differentiation in the ES cell– derived cultures. In addition, we provide evidence that signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) 3, a member of the STAT family pathway, is involved in the function of these miRNAs. We conclude that distinct miRNAs play a functional role in the determination of neural fates in ES cell differentiation.