European journal of immunology

miR-148a promotes plasma cell differentiation and targets the germinal center transcription factors Mitf and Bach2.

PMID 25678371


B cells undergo affinity maturation and class switch recombination of their immunoglobulin receptors during a germinal center (GC) reaction, before they differentiate into long-lived antibody-secreting plasma cells (PCs). Transcription factors such as Bach2 and Mitf are essential during this process, as they delay premature differentiation of GC B cells by repressing Blimp-1 and IRF4, two transcription factors required for terminal PC differentiation. Therefore, Bach2 and Mitf expression must be attenuated in activated B cells to allow terminal PC differentiation, but the precise mechanism remains enigmatic. Here, we provide evidence that miR-148a, a small noncoding microRNA, fosters PC differentiation and survival. Next-generation sequencing revealed that miR-148a is the most abundant microRNA in primary human and murine PCs, and its expression is upregulated in activated murine B cells and coincides with Blimp-1 synthesis. miR-148a targets Bach2, Mitf and proapoptotic factors such as PTEN and Bim. When prematurely expressed, miR-148a promotes the differentiation and survival of plasmablasts and reduces frequencies of IgG1(+) cells in primary B-cell cultures. In summary, we propose that miR-148a is a new player in the regulatory network controlling terminal PC differentiation and could, therefore, be a therapeutic target for interfering with PC differentiation and survival.