A novel oncogenic role for the miRNA-506-514 cluster in initiating melanocyte transformation and promoting melanoma growth

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Malignant melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and its incidence has doubled in the last two decades. It represents only 4% of skin cancer cases per year, but causes as many as 74% of skin cancer deaths. Early detection of malignant melanoma is associated with survival rates of up to 90%, but later detection (stage III to stage IV) is associated with survival rates of only 10%. Dysregulation of microRNA (miRNA) expression has been linked to tumor development and progression by functioning either as a tumor suppressor, an oncogene or a metastasis regulator in multiple cancer types. To understand the role of miRNA in the pathogenesis of malignant melanoma and identify biomarkers of metastasis, miRNA expression profiles in skin punches from 33 metastatic melanoma patients and 14 normal healthy donors were compared. We identified a cluster of 14 miRNAs on the X chromosome, termed the miR-506-514 cluster, which was consistently overexpressed in nearly all melanomas tested (30-60 fold,P< 0.001), regardless of mutations in N-ras or B-raf. Inhibition of the expression of this cluster as a whole, or one of its sub-clusters (Sub-cluster A) consisting of six mature miRNAs, led to significant inhibition of cell growth, induction of apoptosis, decreased invasiveness and decreased colony formation in soft agar across multiple melanoma cell lines. Sub-cluster A of the miR-506-514 cluster was critical for maintaining the cancer phenotype, but the overexpression of the full cluster was necessary for melanocyte transformation. Our results provide new insights into the functional role of this miRNA cluster in melanoma, and suggest new approaches to treat or diagnose this disease.

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