miRCOVID-19: Potential Targets of Human miRNAs in SARS-CoV-2 for RNA-Based Drug Discovery
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Abstract: Sense-antisense interactions of long and short RNAs in human cells are integral to posttranscriptional gene regulation, in particular that of mRNAs by microRNAs. Many viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 SARS-CoV-2 (the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019, COVID-19), have RNA genomes, and interactions between host and viral RNAs, while known to be functional in other viral diseases, have not yet been investigated in COVID-19. To remedy this gap in knowledge, we present miRCOVID-19, a computational meta-analysis framework identifying the predicted binding sites of human microRNAs along the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome. To highlight the potential relevance of SARS-CoV-2-genome-complementary miRNAs to COVID-19 pathogenesis, we assessed their expression in COVID-19-relevant tissues using public transcriptome data. miRCOVID-19 identified 14 high-confidence mature miRNAs that are highly likely to interact with the SARS-CoV-2 genome and are expressed in diverse respiratory epithelial and immune cell types that are relevant to COVID-19 pathogenesis. As a proof of principle, we have shown that human miR-122, a previously known co-factor of another RNA virus, the hepatitis C virus (HCV) whose genome it binds as a prerequisite for pathogenesis, was predicted to also bind the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome with high affinity, suggesting the perspective of repurposing anti-HCV RNA-based drugs, such as Miravirsen, to treat COVID-19. Our study is the first to identify all high-confidence binding sites of human miRNAs in the SARS-CoV-2 genome using multiple tools. Our work directly facilitates experimental validation of the reported targets, which would accelerate RNA-based drug discovery for COVID-19 and has the potential to provide new avenues for treating symptomatic COVID-19, and block SARS-CoV-2 replication, in humans.