J Transl Med. 2021; 19: 223. Published online 2021 May 26. doi: 10.1186/s12967-021-02893-4 (IF:5.531).

miR-20a suppresses Treg differentiation by targeting Map3k9 in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Yishu Wang, Chong Xie, Yaying Song, Weiwei Xiang, Jing Peng, Lu Han, Jie Ding, and Yangtai GuanAuthor informationArticle notesCopyright and License informationDisclaimer

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Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) is a model for inflammatory demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system (CNS), a group of autoimmune diseases characterized by inflammatory infiltration, demyelination, and axonal damage. miR-20a is dysregulated in patients with CNS inflammatory demyelinating diseases; however, the function of miR-20a remains unclear. In this study, we intended to explore the role of miR-20a in EAE.


The expression of miR-20a was detected by quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) in EAE mice and patients with MOG antibody-associated demyelinating diseases. CD4+ T cells of EAE mice were sorted, stimulated, and polarized with miR-20a knockdown. Activation and differentiation of CD4+ T cells were analyzed by flow cytometry. The expression of target gene Map3k9 was detected by qRT-PCR and western blot experiments. The binding of miR-20a to the 3’ UTR of Map3k9 was tested by luciferase assays. The feasibility of miR-20a as a therapeutic target to alleviate the severity of EAE was explored by intravenous administration of miR-20a antagomirs to EAE mice.


miR-20a was upregulated in splenocytes and lymph node cells, CD4+ T cells, and spinal cords of EAE mice. Moreover, miR-20a knockdown did not influence the activation of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells but promoted their differentiation into Treg cells. Map3k9 was predicted to be a target gene of miR-20a. The expressions of Map3k9 and miR-20a were negatively correlated, and miR-20a knockdown increased the expression of Map3k9. In addition, miR-20a binded to the 3’ UTR of Map3k9, and simultaneous knockdown of miR-20a and Map3k9 counteracted the enhanced differentiation of Tregs observed when miR-20a was knocked down alone. Furthermore, injection of miR-20a antagomirs to EAE mice reduced the severity of the disease and increased the proportion of Treg cells in peripheral immune organs.


miR-20a suppresses the differentiation of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells into Tregs in EAE by decreasing the expression of Map3k9. miR-20a antagomirs alleviate EAE, suggesting a new therapy for EAE and CNS inflammatory demyelinating diseases.

Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12967-021-02893-4.Keywords: miR-20a, Map3k9, Regulatory T cell, Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, Inflammatory demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system