The expression level of micro RNAs (miRNAs)-181a and miRNA-181b may be an effective biomarker among patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, according to research published in Virusdisease. The expression of individual markers is, furthermore, higher in patients with acute graft vs host disease (GVHD) after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), and among patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a malignant transformation and proliferation of lymphoid progenitor cells, is the most frequently diagnosed hematologic disease in pediatric patients, although it is still found in adults. These miRNAs—non-coding RNAs—are known to regulate and suppress target genes, and the miRNA-181 family has specifically been associated with immune function.

For this study, researchers evaluated, in comparison with volunteers without ALL, the expression of miRNA-181a and -181b among patients with ALL to determine any links between such expression and GVHD or viral infection, including torque teno viruses (TTVs) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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Overall, data from 76 patients were included in this study. A total of 53 patients were male sex, the mean age was 41 years (range, 15-67), and the mean white blood cell count at diagnosis was 50,041 l/cm. After HSCT, 16 patients developed acute GVHD, of which 7 were low grade and 9 were high grade.

Compared with participants without ALL, patients with ALL had a 4.8-times higher expression of miRNA-181a and a 3.8-times higher expression of miRNA-181b (P =.001). Although there was no link between miRNA-181a expression and acute GVHD, an association was found between miRNA-181b expression and acute GVHD (P =.01).

Expression of miRNA-181a was negatively linked with presence of TTV (P =.001), and positively linked with presence of SARS-CoV-2 (P =.03). These associations were not, however, found for miRNA-181b.

“In conclusion, we found that miR-181a and -b were overexpressed in ALL patients compared to normal populations, suggesting that it could be a useful biomarker,” the authors wrote. “MiR-181a and -b may play an important role in the pathogenesis of [acute] GVHD and can be used as an indicator of [acute] GVHD.”


Iravani Saadi M, Ramzi M, Hesami Z, et al. MiR-181a and -b expression in acute lymphoblastic leukemia and its correlation with acute graft-versus-host disease after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, COVID-19 and torque teno viruses. Virusdisease. Published online October 25, 2021. doi:10.1007/s13337-021-00743-x