Research Summary: Assessing the Utility of Thermodynamic Features for microRNA Target Prediction under Relaxed Seed and No Conservation Requirements



Many computational microRNA target prediction tools are focused on several key features, including complementarity to 5′seed of miRNAs and evolutionary conservation. While these features allow for successful target identification, not all miRNA target sites are conserved and adhere to canonical seed complementarity. Several studies have propagated the use of energy features of mRNA:miRNA duplexes as an alternative feature. However, different independent evaluations reported conflicting results on the reliability of energy-based predictions. Here, we reassess the usefulness of energy features for mammalian target prediction, aiming to relax or eliminate the need for perfect seed matches and conservation requirement.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We detect significant differences of energy features at experimentally supported human miRNA target sites and at genome-wide sites of AGO protein interaction. This trend is confirmed on datasets that assay the effect of miRNAs on mRNA and protein expression changes, and a simple linear regression model leads to significant correlation of predicted versus observed expression change. Compared to 6-mer seed matches as baseline, application of our energy-based model leads to ∼3–5-fold enrichment on highly down-regulated targets, and allows for prediction of strictly imperfect targets with enrichment above baseline.


In conclusion, our results indicate significant promise for energy-based miRNA target prediction that includes a broader range of targets without having to use conservation or impose stringent seed match rules.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 6-June-2011

Author(s): Lekprasert P., Mayhew M., Ohler U.


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