Evolution of the human-specific microRNA miR-941

Hai Yang Hu, Liu He, Kseniya Fominykh, Zheng Yan, Song Guo, Xiaoyu Zhang, Martin S. Taylor, Lin Tang, Jie Li, Jianmei Liu, Wen Wang, Haijing Yu, Philipp Khaitovich

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86 Citations (Scopus)


MicroRNA-mediated gene regulation is important in many physiological processes. Here we explore the roles of a microRNA, miR-941, in human evolution. We find that miR-941 emerged de novo in the human lineage, between six and one million years ago, from an evolutionarily volatile tandem repeat sequence. Its copy-number remains polymorphic in humans and shows a trend for decreasing copy-number with migration out of Africa. Emergence of miR-941 was accompanied by accelerated loss of miR-941-binding sites, presumably to escape regulation. We further show that miR-941 is highly expressed in pluripotent cells, repressed upon differentiation and preferentially targets genes in hedgehog-and insulin-signalling pathways, thus suggesting roles in cellular differentiation. Human-specific effects of miR-941 regulation are detectable in the brain and affect genes involved in neurotransmitter signalling. Taken together, these results implicate miR-941 in human evolution, and provide an example of rapid regulatory evolution in the human linage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1145
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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