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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Nucleic Acids Research.

Volume 43, Issue 19, 30 October 2015, Pages 9158-9175.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkv922

Copyright © The Author(s) 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact


Here we describe our study of miRNA isoforms (isomiRs) in breast cancer (BRCA) and normal breast data sets from the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) repository. We report that the full isomiR profiles, from both known and novel human-specific miRNA loci, are particularly rich in information and can distinguish tumor from normal tissue much better than the archetype miRNAs. IsomiR expression is also dependent on the patient's race, exemplified by miR-183-5p, several isomiRs of which are upregulated in triple negative BRCA in white but not black women. Additionally, we find that an isomiR's 5' endpoint and length, but not the genomic origin, are key determinants of the regulation of its expression. Overexpression of distinct miR-183-5p isomiRs in MDA-MB-231 cells followed by microarray analysis revealed that each isomiR has a distinct impact on the cellular transcriptome. Parallel integrative analysis of mRNA expression from BRCA data sets of the TCGA repository demonstrated that isomiRs can distinguish between the luminal A and luminal B subtypes and explain in more depth the molecular differences between them than the archetype molecules. In conclusion, our findings provide evidence that post-transcriptional studies of BRCA will benefit from transcending the one-locus-one-miRNA paradigm and taking into account all isoforms from each miRNA locus as well as the patient's race.

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