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Identification and characterization of microRNAs which moderate neutrophil migration and acute inflammation

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posted on 09.09.2022, 14:43 authored by Alan Y HsuAlan Y Hsu

Neutrophils are the first cells recruited to an immune stimulus stemming from infection or sterile injuries via a mixture of chemoattractant cues. In addition to eliminating pathogens, neutrophils coordinate the overall inflammation by activating and producing inflammatory signals in the tissue while modulating the activation of other immune cells which in some cases leads to adverse tissue damage. Over amplified or chronic neutrophil recruitment directly leads to autoimmune diseases including rheumatic arthritis, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. Dampening neutrophil recruitment is a strategy to intervene in neutrophil-orchestrated chronic inflammation. Despite intensive research over the past several decades, clinical studies targeting neutrophil migration have been largely unsuccessful, possibly due to the prominent redundancy of adhesion receptors and chemokines. Additional challenges lie in the balance of dampening detrimental inflammation while preserving immunity. Neutrophils are terminally differentiated cells that are hard to study in cell culture. Mouse models are often used to study hematopoiesis, migration, and chemotaxis of neutrophils but is very labor intensive. To discover novel therapeutic targets that modulate neutrophil migration, we performed a neutrophil-specific microRNA (miRNA) overexpression screen in zebrafish and identified eight miRNAs as potent suppressors of neutrophil migration. We have generated transgenic zebrafish lines that overexpresses these candidate miRNAs where we recapitulated the mitigation in neutrophil motility and chemotaxis to tissue injury or infection. Among those we further characterized two miRNAs which have not been reported to regulate neutrophil migration, namely miR-722 and miR-199.

MiR-722 downregulates the transcript level of rac2 through binding to the rac2 3'UTR. Furthermore, miR-722-overexpressing larvae display improved outcomes in both sterile and bacterial systemic models, which correlates with a robust upregulation of the anti-inflammatory cytokines in the whole larvae and isolated neutrophils. miR-722 protects zebrafish from lethal lipopolysaccharide challenge. In addition, overexpression of mir-722 reduced chemotaxis of human neutrophil like cells, indicating that miR-722 is a potential agent to reduce inflammation in humans.

MiR-199, decreases neutrophil chemotaxis in zebrafish and human neutrophil-like cells. Intriguingly, in terminally differentiated neutrophils, miR-199 alters the cell cycle-related pathways and directly suppresses cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (cdk2), whose known activity is restricted to cell cycle progression and cell differentiation. Inhibiting Cdk2, but not DNA replication, disrupts cell polarity and chemotaxis of zebrafish neutrophils without inducing cell death. Human neutrophil-like cells deficient in CDK2 fail to polarize and display altered signaling downstream of the formyl peptide receptor. Chemotaxis of primary human neutrophils is also reduced upon CDK2 inhibition. Furthermore, miR-199 overexpression or CDK2 inhibition significantly improves the outcome of lethal systemic inflammation challenges in zebrafish.

In summary, our results reveal previously unknown functions of these miRNAs, and provide potential avenues to modulate neutrophil migration as well as lead to discoveries of novel factors which can regulate this process. We have also discovered a non-classical role of CDK2 in regulating neutrophil migration which provides directions for alleviating systemic inflammation and a better understanding of neutrophil biology.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Biological Sciences

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Qing Deng

Additional Committee Member 2

David Umulis

Additional Committee Member 3

Qing Jiang

Additional Committee Member 4

Jun Wan

Additional Committee Member 5

Chang Kim

Additional Committee Member 6

Andrea Kasinski