Atherosclerosis can occur throughout the arterial vascular system and lead to various diseases. Early diagnosis of atherosclerotic processes and of individual disease patterns would be more likely to be successful if targeted therapies were available. For this, it is important to find reliable biomarkers that are easily accessible and with little inconvenience for patients. There are many cell culture, animal model or tissue studies that found biomarkers at the microRNA (miRNA) and mRNA level describing atherosclerotic processes. However, little is known about their potential as circulating and liquid biopsy markers in patients.
In this study, a team led by researchers at the Technical University of Munich examined serum-derived miRNA – profiles from 129 patients and 28 volunteers to identify potential biomarkers. The patients had four different atherosclerotic manifestations: abdominal aneurysm (n = 35), coronary heart disease (n = 34), carotid artery stenosis (n = 24) and peripheral arterial disease (n = 36). The samples were processed with an extracellular vesicle enrichment protocol, total-RNA extraction and small RNA-sequencing were performed. A differential expression analysis was performed bioinformatically to find potentially regulated miRNA biomarkers. Resulting miRNA candidates served as a starting point for an overrepresentation analysis in which relevant target mRNAs were identified. The Gene Ontology database revealed relevant biological functions in relation to atherosclerotic processes. In patients, expression of specific miRNAs changed significantly compared to healthy volunteers; 27 differentially expressed miRNAs were identified. The researchers were able to detect a group-specific miRNA fingerprint: miR-122-5p, miR-2110 and miR-483-5p for abdominal aortic aneurysm, miR-370-3p and miR-409-3p for coronary heart disease, miR-335-3p, miR-381-3p, miR493-5p and miR654-3p for carotid artery stenosis, miR-199a-5p, miR-215-5p, miR-3168, miR-582-3p and miR-769-5p for peripheral arterial disease.
Log2FC of summarized differentially expressed miRNAs
from the comparison of each group vs. control
The log2FC is given on the y-axis. aneu = abdominal aneurysm, athero = atherosclerosis, chd = coronary heart disease, cs = carotid stenosis, pad = peripheral artery disease, log2FC = log2 fold change.
The results of the study show that some of the identified miRNAs have already been associated with atherosclerosis in previous studies. Overrepresentation analysis on this data detected biological processes that are clearly relevant for atherosclerosis, its development and progression showing the potential of these miRNAs as biomarker candidates. In a next step, the relevance of these findings on the mRNA level is to be investigated and substantiated.