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Research Article

In-Depth Characterization of microRNA Transcriptome in Melanoma


The full repertoire of human microRNAs (miRNAs) that could distinguish common (benign) nevi from cutaneous (malignant) melanomas remains to be established. In an effort to gain further insight into the role of miRNAs in melanoma, we applied Illumina next-generation sequencing (NGS) platform to carry out an in-depth analysis of miRNA transcriptome in biopsies of nevi, thick primary (>4.0 mm) and metastatic melanomas with matched normal skin in parallel to melanocytes and melanoma cell lines (both primary and metastatic) (n = 28). From this data representing 698 known miRNAs, we defined a set of top-40 list, which properly classified normal from cancer; also confirming 23 (58%) previously discovered miRNAs while introducing an additional 17 (42%) known and top-15 putative novel candidate miRNAs deregulated during melanoma progression. Surprisingly, the miRNA signature distinguishing specimens of melanoma from nevus was significantly different than that of melanoma cell lines from melanocytes. Among the top list, miR-203, miR-204-5p, miR-205-5p, miR-211-5p, miR-23b-3p, miR-26a-5p and miR-26b-5p were decreased in melanomas vs. nevi. In a validation cohort (n = 101), we verified the NGS results by qRT-PCR and showed that receiver-operating characteristic curves for miR-211-5p expression accurately discriminated invasive melanoma (AUC = 0.933), melanoma in situ (AUC = 0.933) and dysplastic (atypical) nevi (AUC = 0.951) from common nevi. Target prediction analysis of co-transcribed miRNAs showed a cooperative regulation of key elements in the MAPK signaling pathway. Furthermore, we found extensive sequence variations (isomiRs) and other non-coding small RNAs revealing a complex melanoma transcriptome. Deep-sequencing small RNAs directly from clinically defined specimens provides a robust strategy to improve melanoma diagnostics.