miRNAs have been found to contribute to normal brain functions, nervous system diseases, as well as neurotoxicities induced by external agents. However, whether they are involved in lead-induced neurotoxicities is still not clear. To identify that, a lead-induced chronic neurotoxicity model of rats was built. Both miRNA microarray analysis and qRT-PCR were performed to determine the change of miRNA expression in hippocampus. Then 3 bioinformatics databases were used to analyze the relative target genes of these miRNA, which were further confirmed by qRT-PCR and Western blot. In the present study, lead exposure resulted in the changed expression of 7 miRNAs: miR-204, miR-211, miR-448, miR-449a, miR-34b, and miR-34c were greatly up-regulated while miR-494 was greatly down-regulated. Bioinformatics analysis results showed that the target genes of 6 up-regulated miRNAs were related to neural injury and neurodegeration, axon and synapse function, neural development and regeneration. Correspondingly, the expression levels of mature mRNAs and proteins of three target genes (Bcl-2, Itpr1, and Map2k1) were greatly repressed, verifying the results of bioinformatics analysis. Taken together, our results showed that the expression of several miRNAs reported to be associated with neurophysiological pathways and neurodegenerative diseases changed in rat hippocampus following chronic lead exposure. These miRNAs may play important roles in lead-induced neurotoxicity.
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