MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play a significant role in nuclear and mitochondrial anterograde and retrograde signaling. Most of the miRNAs found inside mitochondria are encoded in the nuclear genome, with a few mitochondrial genome-encoded non-coding RNAs having been reported. In this study, we have identified 13 mitochondrial genome-encoded microRNAs (mitomiRs), which were differentially expressed in breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7, MDA-MB-468 and MDA-MB-231), non-malignant breast epithelial cell line (MCF-10A), and normal and breast cancer tissue specimens. We found that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) depletion and inhibition of mitochondrial transcription led to reduced expression of mitomiRs in breast cancer cells. MitomiRs physically interacted with Ago2, an RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) protein, in the cytoplasm and inside mitochondria. MitomiRs regulate the expression of both nuclear and mitochondrial transcripts in breast cancer cells. We showed that mitomiR-5 targets the PPARGC1A gene and regulates mtDNA copy number in breast cancer cells. MitomiRs identified in the present study may be a promising tool for expression and functional analysis in patients with a defective mitochondrial phenotype, including cancer and metabolic syndromes.

This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

You do not currently have access to this content.