Differential repression of alternative transcripts: a screen for miRNA targets.
Alternative polyadenylation sites produce transcript isoforms with 3' untranslated regions (UTRs) of different lengths. If a microRNA (miRNA) target is present in the UTR, then only those target-containing isoforms should be sensitive to control by a cognate miRNA. We carried out a systematic examination of 3' UTRs containing multiple poly(A) sites and putative miRNA targets. Based on expressed sequence tag (EST) counts and EST library information, we observed that levels of isoforms containing targets for miR-1 or miR-124, two miRNAs causing downregulation of transcript levels, were reduced in tissues expressing the corresponding miRNA. This analysis was repeated for all conserved 7-mers in 3' UTRs, resulting in a selection of 312 motifs. We show that this set is significantly enriched in known miRNA targets and mRNA-destabilizing elements, which validates our initial hypothesis. We scanned the human genome for possible cognate miRNAs and identified phylogenetically conserved precursors matching our motifs. This analysis can help identify target-miRNA couples that went undetected in previous screens, but it may also reveal targets for other types of regulatory factors.