Competing interactions between micro-RNAs determine neural progenitor survival and proliferation after ethanol exposure: evidence from an ex vivo model of the fetal cerebral cortical neuroepithelium.
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The fetal brain is sensitive to a variety of teratogens, including ethanol. We showed previously that ethanol induced mitosis and stem cell maturation, but not death, in fetal cerebral cortex-derived progenitors. We tested the hypothesis that micro-RNAs (miRNAs) could mediate the teratogenic effects of ethanol in a fetal mouse cerebral cortex-derived neurosphere culture model. Ethanol, at a level attained by alcoholics, significantly suppressed the expression of four miRNAs, miR-21, -335, -9, and -153, whereas a lower ethanol concentration, attainable during social drinking, induced miR-335 expression. A GABA(A) receptor-dependent mechanism mediated miR-21, but not miR-335 suppression, suggesting that divergent mechanisms regulate ethanol-sensitive miRNAs. Antisense-mediated suppression of miR-21 expression resulted in apoptosis, suggesting that miR-21 is an antiapoptotic factor. miR-335 knockdown promoted cell proliferation and prevented death induced by concurrently suppressing miR-21, indicating that miR-335 is a proapoptotic, antimitogenic factor whose actions are antagonistic to miR-21. Computational analyses identified two genes, Jagged-1, a Notch-receptor ligand, and embryonic-lethal abnormal vision, Drosophila-like 2 (ELAVL2), a brain-specific regulator of RNA stability, as presumptive targets of three of four ethanol-sensitive micro-RNAs. Combined knockdown of miR-335, -21, and -153 significantly increased Jagged-1 mRNA. Furthermore, ethanol induced both Jagged-1 and ELAVL2 mRNA. The collective suppression of micro-RNAs is consistent with ethanol induction of cell cycle and neuroepithelial maturation in the absence of apoptosis. These data identify a role for micro-RNAs as epigenetic intermediaries, which permit teratogens to shape complex, divergent developmental processes, and additionally demonstrate that coordinately regulated miRNAs exhibit both functional synergy and antagonism toward each other.