miRs (microRNAs) post-transcriptionally regulate gene expression mainly by repressing translation or by inducing mRNA degradation. Dicer, an enzyme responsible for miR biogenesis, is required for T-cell function, suggesting regulatory roles for miRs in lymphocytes. However, specific roles for individual miRs are only just beginning to emerge. miR-155 is encoded within an exon of the non-coding RNA known as bic (B-cell integration cluster) and high levels of bic expression are induced upon antigen receptor stimulation of B- and T-cells, as well as TLR (Toll-like receptor) stimulation of macrophages and dendritic cells. High levels of bic/miR-155 are found in B-cell lymphomas and solid tumours, indicating that this locus may also be linked to cancer. Indeed, transgenic mice overexpressing miR-155 develop B-cell malignancies. To define the in vivo role of bic/miR-155 (bic), we have studied bic-deficient mice. These mice are immunodeficient and fail to generate high levels of class-switched antibody upon immunization with thymus-dependent and thymus-independent antigens. This defect is intrinsic to B-cells and manifested at the level of differentiation of switched plasmablasts into mature antibody secreting plasma cells. In addition, bic-deficient T-cells show skewed differentiation into the Th2 lineage under a variety of in vitro culture conditions. Microarray analysis of bic-deficient B- and T-cells under different conditions has revealed a wide spectrum of targets regulated by an miR-155 and suggested mechanisms for the regulation of lymphocyte differentiation by a single miR.

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