Comprehensive analysis of blood cells and plasma identifies tissue-specific miRNAs as potential novel circulating biomarkers in cattle

Jason Ioannidis, Francesc Donadeu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The potential of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers of tissue function, both in health and disease, has been extensively demonstrated in humans. In addition, circulating miRNA biomarkers offer significant potential towards improving the productivity of livestock species, however, such potential has been hampered by the absence of information on the nature and source of circulating miRNA populations in these species. In addition, many miRNAs originally proposed as robust biomarkers of a particular tissue or disease in humans have been later shown not to be tissue specific and thus to actually have limited biomarker utility. In this study, we comprehensively analysed miRNA profiles in plasma and cell fractions of blood from cattle with the aim to identify tissue derived
miRNAs which may be useful as biomarkers of tissue function in this important
food animal species.
Using small RNA sequencing, we identified 92 miRNAs with significantly higher
expression in plasma compared to paired blood cell samples (n = 4 cows). Differences
in miRNA levels between plasma and cell fractions were validated for eight out of 10 miRNAs using RT-qPCR (n = 10 cows). Among miRNAs found to be enriched in plasma, we confirmed miR-122 (liver), miR-133a (muscle) and miR-215 (intestine) to be tissue-enriched, as reported for other species. Profiling of additional miRNAs across different tissues identified the human homologue, miR-802, as highly enriched specifically in liver.
These results provide novel information on the source of bovine circulating miRNAs and could significantly facilitate the identification of production-relevant tissue biomarkers in livestock. In particular, miR-802, a circulating miRNA not previously identified in cattle, can reportedly regulate insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism, and thus could potentially provide a specific biomarker of liver function, a key parameter in the context of post-partum negative energy balance in dairy cows.
Original languageEnglish
Article number243
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2018


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