MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of 22–25 nucleotide RNAs that control gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. MiRNAs have potential as cancer biomarkers. Melanoma is a highly aggressive form of skin cancer accounting for almost 4% of cancers among men and women, and ~80% of skin cancer-related deaths in the US. In the present study we analyzed plasma-derived exosomal miRNAs from clinically affected and unaffected familial melanoma patients (CDKN2A/p16 gene carriers) and compared them with affected (nonfamilial melanoma) and unaffected control subjects in order to identify novel risk biomarkers for melanoma. Intact miRNAs can be isolated from the circulation because of their presence in exosomes. A number of differentially regulated miRNAs identified by NanoString human V2 miRNA array were validated by quantitative PCR. Significantly, miR-17, miR-19a, miR-21, miR-126, and miR-149 were expressed at higher levels in patients with metastatic sporadic melanoma as compared with familial melanoma patients or unaffected control subjects. Surprisingly, no substantial differences in miRNA expression were detected between familial melanoma patients (all inclusive) and unaffected control subjects. The miRNAs differentially expressed in the different patient cohorts, especially in patients with metastatic melanoma, may play important roles in tumor progression and metastasis, and may be used as predictive biomarkers to monitor remission as well as relapse following therapeutic intervention.
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