Epigenetic changes, including miRNAs deregulation, have been suggested to play a significant role in development of obliterative bronchiolitis (OB) in transplanted lungs. Many studies have tried to identify ideal candidate miRNAs and the downstream pathways implicated in the bronchiolar fibro-obliterative process. Several candidate miRNAs, previously indicated as possibly being associated with OB, were analyzed by combining the quantitative real time-polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and in situ hybridization (ISH) of lung tissues of OB affected patients. Disease and OB-lesion-specific expression of miR-21-5p was confirmed and by computational analysis we were able to identify the network of genes most probably associated miR-21-5p in the context of OB fibrogenesis. Among all potentially associated genes, STAT3 had a very high probability score. Immunohistochemistry showed that STAT3/miR-21-5p were co-over expressed in OB lesions, thus, suggesting miR-21-5p could regulate STAT3 expression. However, miR-21-5p inhibition in cultures of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) derived myofibroblasts did not significantly affect STAT3 mRNA and protein expression levels. This study demonstrates the specificity of miR-21-5p over-expression in OB lesions and contributes to existing knowledge on the miR-21-5p downstream pathway. Activation of STAT3 is associated with miR-21-5p upregulation, however, STAT-3 network activation is most likely complex and miR-21-5p is not the sole regulator of STAT3.
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