miR-9a regulates levels of both rhomboid mRNA and protein in the early Drosophila melanogaster embryo

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MicroRNAs can have subtle and combinatorial effects on the levels of the targets and pathways they act on. Studying the consequences of a single microRNA knockout often proves difficult as many such knockouts exhibit phenotypes only under stress conditions. This has often led to the hypothesis that microRNAs buffer the effects of intrinsic and environmental stochasticity on gene expression. Observing and understanding this buffering effect entails quantitative analysis of microRNA and target expression in single cells. To this end, we have employed single-molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization, immunofluorescence, and high-resolution confocal microscopy to investigate the effects of miR-9a loss on the expression of the serine-protease Rhomboid in Drosophila melanogaster early embryos. Our single-cell quantitative approach shows that spatially, the rhomboid mRNA pattern is identical in WT and miR-9a knockout embryos. However, we find that the number of mRNA molecules per cell is higher when miR-9a is absent, and the level and temporal accumulation of rhomboid protein shows a more dramatic increase in the miR-9a knockout. Specifically, we see accumulation of rhomboid protein in miR-9a mutants by stage 5, much earlier than in WT. The data, therefore, show that miR-9a functions in the regulation of rhomboid mRNA and protein levels. While further work is required to establish whether rhomboid is a direct target of miR-9 in Drosophila, our results further establish the miR-9 family microRNAs as conserved regulators of timing in neurogenic processes. This study shows the power of single-cell quantification as an experimental tool to study phenotypic consequences of microRNA mis-regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjkac026
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics (Bethesda)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2022


  • embryogenesis
  • miR-9a
  • rhomboid
  • single-cell quantification
  • smFISH


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