MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a recently discovered class of small noncoding RNAs and are implicated in an increasing number of biological processes. To examine whether miRNAs might contribute to sexual differentiation, we performed expression profiling of miRNAs in mouse embryonic gonads with the use of a highly sensitive cloning method, mRAP. Our profiling data revealed substantial differences in the miRNA repertoire between male and female gonads at embryonic (E) day 13.5 (E13.5), suggesting that such differentially expressed miRNAs may function in sexual differentiation. Female-specific miRNAs included miR-29b, which also has been known to be expressed in a similar sex-dependent manner in the gonads of chicken embryos, suggestive of a conserved role in gonadogenesis. Transcripts of the human genes for the de novo methyltransferases DNMT3A and DNMT3B have been identified as targets of miR-29b, and we found that mouse miR-29b also negatively regulates Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b expression in luciferase reporter assays. We also found that miR-29b is expressed in mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) at E13.5 and that its expression is up-regulated in a female-specific manner between E13.5 and E17.5, when male-specific de novo methylation of the PGC genome is known to occur. Our data thus suggest that miR-29b may play an important role in female gonadal development by targeting Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b and thereby modulating methylation of genomic DNA in PGCs.
Original languageEnglish
Journal publication date2009

ID: 178323