Human MicroRNAs Originated from Two Periods at Accelerated Rates in Mammalian Evolution

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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, noncoding RNAs that modulate genes posttranscriptionally. Frequent gains and losses of miRNA genes have been reported to occur during evolution. However, little is known systematically about the periods of evolutionary origin of the present miRNA gene repertoire of an extant mammalian species. Thus, in this study, we estimated the evolutionary periods during which each of 1,433 present human miRNA genes originated within 15 periods, from human to platypus–human common ancestral branch and a class “conserved beyond theria,” primarily using multiple genome alignments of 38 species, plus the pairwise genome alignments of five species. The results showed two peak periods in which the human miRNA genes originated at significantly accelerated rates. The most accelerated rate appeared in the period of the initial phase of hominoid lineage, and the second appeared shortly before Laurasiatherian divergence. Approximately 53% of the present human miRNA genes have originated within the simian lineage to human. In particular, approximately 28% originated within the hominoid lineage. The early phase of placental mammal radiation comprises approximately 28%, while no more than 15% of human miRNAs have been conserved beyond placental mammals. We also clearly showed a general trend, in which the miRNA expression level decreases as the miRNA becomes younger. Intriguingly, amid this decreasing trend of expression, we found one significant rise in the expression level that corresponded to the initial phase of the hominoid lineage, suggesting that increased functional acquisitions of miRNAs originated at this particular period.

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