Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 32731901
Link to DOI – 10.1186/s13059-020-02098-w
Genome Biol. 2020 Jul; 21(1): 187
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are key regulators of the immune system, yet their variation and contribution to intra- and inter-population differences in immune responses is poorly characterized.We generate 977 miRNA-sequencing profiles from primary monocytes from individuals of African and European ancestry following activation of three TLR pathways (TLR4, TLR1/2, and TLR7/8) or infection with influenza A virus. We find that immune activation leads to important modifications in the miRNA and isomiR repertoire, particularly in response to viral challenges. These changes are much weaker than those observed for protein-coding genes, suggesting stronger selective constraints on the miRNA response to stimulation. This is supported by the limited genetic control of miRNA expression variability (miR-QTLs) and the lower occurrence of gene-environment interactions, in stark contrast with eQTLs that are largely context-dependent. We also detect marked differences in miRNA expression between populations, which are mostly driven by non-genetic factors. On average, miR-QTLs explain approximately 60% of population differences in expression of their cognate miRNAs and, in some cases, evolve adaptively, as shown in Europeans for a miRNA-rich cluster on chromosome 14. Finally, integrating miRNA and mRNA data from the same individuals, we provide evidence that the canonical model of miRNA-driven transcript degradation has a minor impact on miRNA-mRNA correlations, which are, in our setting, mainly driven by co-transcription.Together, our results shed new light onto the factors driving miRNA and isomiR diversity at the population level and constitute a useful resource for evaluating their role in host differences of immunity to infection.