Discovery and design of an optimal microRNA loop substrate
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RNA interference, or RNAi, is a cellular mechanism that describes the sequence-specific post transcriptional gene silencing observed in plants, fungi, and metazoans, facilitated by short double-stranded RNAs and microRNAs (miRNAs) with sequence complementarity to target mRNAs. Many of the regulatory mechanisms of the RNAi pathway by which these small miRNAs are first processed, from primary transcripts to precursor miRNA stemloops and then to mature miRNAs, by the multiprotein complexes Drosha and Dicer, respectively, still remain unknown. Within the miRNA biogenesis pathway, there is strong evidence pointing to the terminal loop region as an important regulatory determinant of miRNA maturation. To further elucidate the terminal loop's exerted control over miRNA processing, we propose a combined in vitro / in vivo selection experiment of a randomized pri-miRNA terminal loop library in search of an optimally processed pre-miRNA substrate. Here, we report the isolation of a premiRNA terminal loop sequence that is favorably processed by Drosha in vivo but also functions as an effective cis-inhibitor of further pre-miRNA processing by downstream Dicer. This terminal loop also demonstrated modular properties of Dicer inhibition in two different miRNAs, and should prove useful in further elucidating the mechanisms of miRNA processing in context of a newly proposed Dicer cleavage model (Gu et al. 2012). In combination, these findings may have important implications in both Drosha and Dicer's direct role in gene expression and miRNA biogenesis, the regulatory proteins that modulate their respective functions, as well as the potential development of new design rules for the more efficient processing and targeting of miRNA-based technology and RNAi therapeutics.