Prediction and verification of microRNA targets by MovingTargets, a highly adaptable prediction method
Background: MicroRNAs (miRNAs) mediate a form of translational regulation in animals. Hundreds of animal miRNAs have been identified, but only a few of their targets are known. Prediction of miRNA targets for translational regulation is challenging, since the interaction with the target mRNA usually occurs via incomplete and interrupted base pairing. Moreover, the rules that govern such interactions are incompletely defined. -- Results: MovingTargets is a software program that allows a researcher to predict a set of miRNA targets that satisfy an adjustable set of biological constraints. We used MovingTargets to identify a high-likelihood set of 83 miRNA targets in Drosophila, all of which adhere to strict biological constraints. We tested and verified 3 of these predictions in cultured cells, including a target for the Drosophila let-7 homolog. In addition, we utilized the flexibility of MovingTargets by relaxing the biological constraints to identify and validate miRNAs targeting tramtrack, a gene also known to be subject to translational control dependent on the RNA binding protein Musashi. -- Conclusion: MovingTargets is a flexible tool for the accurate prediction of miRNA targets in Drosophila. MovingTargets can be used to conduct a genome-wide search of miRNA targets using all Drosophila miRNAs and potential targets, or it can be used to conduct a focused search for miRNAs targeting a specific gene. In addition, the values for a set of biological constraints used to define a miRNA target are adjustable, allowing the software to incorporate the rules used to characterize a miRNA target as these rules are experimentally determined and interpreted.