MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNA molecules that regulate post-transcriptional gene expression and contribute to all aspects of cellular function. We previously reported that the activities of several mitochondria-enriched miRNAs regulating inflammation (i.e., miR-142-3p, miR-142-5p, and miR-146a) are altered in the hippocampus at 3–12 hours following a severe traumatic brain injury. In the present study, we investigated the temporal expression profile of these inflammatory miRNAs in mitochondria and cytosol fractions at more chronic post-injury times following severe controlled cortical impact injury in rats. In addition, several inflammatory genes were analyzed in the cytosol fractions. The analysis showed that while elevated levels were observed in cytoplasm, the mitochondria-enriched miRNAs, miR-142-3p and miR-142-5p continued to be significantly reduced in mitochondria from injured hippocampi for at least 3 days and returned to near normal levels at 7 days post-injury. Although not statistically significant, miR-146a also remained at reduced levels for up to 3 days following controlled cortical impact injury, and recovered by 7 days. In contrast, miRNAs that are not enriched in mitochondria, including miR-124a, miR-150, miR-19b, miR-155, and miR-223 were either increased or demonstrated no change in their levels in mitochondrial fractions for 7 days. The one exception was that miR-223 levels were reduced in mitochondria at 1 day following injury. No major alterations were observed in sham operated animals. This temporal pattern was unique to mitochondria-enriched miRNAs and correlated with injury-induced changes in mitochondrial bioenergetics as well as expression levels of several inflammatory markers. These observations suggested a potential compartmental re-distribution of the mitochondria-enriched inflammatory miRNAs and may reflect an intracellular mechanism by which specific miRNAs regulate injury-induced inflammatory signaling. To test this, we utilized a novel peptide-based nanoparticle strategy for in vitro and in vivo delivery of a miR-146a mimic as a potential therapeutic strategy for targeting nuclear factor-kappaB inflammatory modulators in the injured brain. Nanoparticle delivery of miR-146a to BV-2 or SH-SY5Y cells significantly reduced expression of TNF receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6) and interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 1 (IRAK1), two important modulators of the nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB) pro-inflammatory pathway. Moreover, injections of miR-146a containing nanoparticles into the brain immediately following controlled cortical impact injury significantly reduced hippocampal TNF receptor-associated factor 6 and interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 1 levels. Taken together, our studies demonstrate the subcellular alteration of inflammatory miRNAs after traumatic brain injury and establish proof of principle that nanoparticle delivery of miR-146a has therapeutic potential for modulating pro-inflammatory effectors in the injured brain. All of the studies performed were approved by the University of Kentucky Institutional Animal Care and Usage Committee (IACUC protocol # 2014-1300) on August 17, 2017.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Neural Regeneration Research, v. 16, issue 3.

This is an open access journal, and articles are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License, which allows others to remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as appropriate credit is given and the new creations are licensed under the identical terms.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This work is supported by a grant (15-12A) from the Kentucky Spinal Cord and Head Injury Research Trust to JES and WXW.

Related Content

Datasets analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

NeuralRegenRes_2021_16_3_514_293149_sm8.pdf (57 kB)
Additional Figure 1: Profile of mitochondria-enrichment of miRNAs in sham operated animals

NeuralRegenRes_2021_16_3_514_293149_sm9.pdf (104 kB)
Additional Figure 2: In vitro delivery of p5RHH peptide-based miR-146a nanoparticles to cultured SH-SY5Y cells

NeuralRegenRes_2021_16_3_514_293149_sm10.pdf (2930 kB)
Additional Table 1: Customized TaqMan low density array (TLDA) Genes and the assay ID