Extracellular microRNAs (miRNAs) have been proposed to function in cross-kingdom gene regulation. Among these, plant-derived miRNAs of dietary origin have been reported to survive the harsh conditions of the human digestive system, enter the circulatory system, and regulate gene expression and metabolic function. However, definitive evidence supporting the presence of plant-derived miRNAs of dietary origin in mammals has been difficult to obtain due to limited sample sizes.
Zhejiang University researchers have developed a bioinformatics pipeline (ePmiRNA_finder) that provides strident miRNA classification and applied it to analyze 421 small RNA sequencing data sets from 10 types of human body fluids and tissues and comparative samples from carnivores and herbivores. A total of 35 miRNAs were identified that map to plants typically found in the human diet and these miRNAs were found in at least one human blood sample and their abundance was significantly different when compared to samples from human microbiome or cow. The plant-derived miRNA profiles were body fluid/tissue-specific and highly abundant in the brain and the breast milk samples, indicating selective absorption and/or the ability to be transported across tissue/organ barriers. These data provide conclusive evidence for the presence of plant-derived miRNAs as a consequence of dietary intake and their cross-kingdom regulatory function within human circulating system.
Workflow for identifying extracellular plant miRNAs in non-plant small RNA NGS sequencing data using ePmiRNA_finder
Availability – https://github.com/bioinplant/ePmiRNA_finder