Expression Analysis in Atlantic Salmon Liver Reveals miRNAs Associated with Smoltification and Seawater Adaptation
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Smoltification is a developmental process that preadapts Atlantic salmon for a life in seawater. Suboptimal smoltification and poor timing of transfer to seawater is associated with increased mortality. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding genes. They regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally as part of the miRNA induce silencing complex (miRISC) where they guide miRISC to particular mRNAs (target genes). The aim of this study was to identify Atlantic salmon miRNAs expressed in liver that are associated with smoltification and adaptation to seawater as well as to predict their target genes. In total, 62 guide miRNAs were identified, and by their expression patterns they were clustered into three groups. Target gene predictions followed by gene enrichment analysis of the predicted targets indicated that the guide miRNAs were involved in post-transcriptional regulation of important smoltification associated biological processes. Some of these were energy metabolism, protein metabolism and transport, circadian rhythm, stress and immune response. Together, the results indicate that certain miRNAs are involved in the regulation of many of the important changes occurring in the liver during this developmental transition. Optimal smoltification is crucial for normal development, growth, and health of farmed Atlantic salmon in seawater. Here, we characterize miRNA expression in liver to reveal whether miRNAs regulate gene expression during this developmental transition. Expression changes of miRNAs and mRNAs was studied by small-RNA sequencing and microarray analysis, respectively. This revealed 62 differentially expressed guide miRNAs (gDE-miRNAs) that could be divided into three groups with characteristic dynamic expression patterns. Three of miRNA families are known as highly expressed in liver. A rare arm shift was observed during smoltification in the Atlantic salmon-specific novel-ssa-miR-16. The gDE-miRNAs were predicted to target 2804 of the genes revealing expression changes in the microarray analysis. Enrichment analysis revealed that targets were significantly enriched in smoltification-associated biological process groups. These included lipid and cholesterol synthesis, carbohydrate metabolism, protein metabolism and protein transport, immune system genes, circadian rhythm and stress response. The results indicate that gDE-miRNAs may regulate many of the changes associated with this developmental transition in liver. The results pave the way for validation of the predicted target genes and further study of gDE-miRNA and their targets by functional assays.