MicroRNAs (miRNAs) mainly function as post-transcriptional regulators and are involved in a wide range of physiological and pathophysiological processes such as cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and tumorigenesis. Mouse testes express a large number of miRNAs. However, the physiological roles of these testicular miRNAs remain largely unknown. Using microarray and quantitative real time PCR assays, we identified that miRNAs of the microRNA-449 (miR-449) cluster were preferentially expressed in the mouse testis, and their levels were drastically up-regulated upon meiotic initiation during testicular development and in adult spermatogenesis. The expression pattern of the miR-449 cluster resembled that of microRNA-34b/c (miR-34b/c) during spermatogenesis. Further analyses identified that cAMP-responsive element modulator τ and SOX5, two transcription factors essential for regulating male germ cell gene expression, acted as the upstream transactivators to stimulate the expression of the miR-449 cluster in mouse testes. Despite its abundant expression in testicular germ cells, miR-449-null male mice developed normally and exhibited normal spermatogenesis and fertility. Our data further demonstrated that miR-449 shared a cohort of target genes that belong to the E2F transcription factor-retinoblastoma protein pathway with the miR-34 family, and levels of miR-34b/c were significantly up-regulated in miR-449-null testes. Taken together, our data suggest that the miR-449 cluster and miR-34b/c function redundantly in the regulation of male germ cell development in murine testes.
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