Accurate, RNA-seq based, microRNA (miRNA) expression estimates from primary cells have recently been described. However, this in vitro data is mainly obtained from cell culture, which is known to alter cell maturity/differentiation status, significantly changing miRNA levels. What is needed is a robust method to obtain in vivo miRNA expression values directly from cells. We introduce expression microdissection miRNA small RNA sequencing (xMD-miRNA-seq), a method to isolate cells directly from formalin fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues. xMD-miRNA-seq is a low-cost, high-throughput, immunohistochemistry-based method to capture any cell type of interest. As a proof-of-concept, we isolated colon epithelial cells from two specimens and performed low-input small RNA-seq. We generated up to 600,000 miRNA reads from the samples. Isolated epithelial cells, had abundant epithelial-enriched miRNA expression (miR-192; miR-194; miR-200b; miR-200c; miR-215; miR-375) and overall similar miRNA expression patterns to other epithelial cell populations (colonic enteroids and flow-isolated colon epithelium). xMD-derived epithelial cells were generally not contaminated by other adjacent cells of the colon as noted by t-SNE analysis. xMD-miRNA-seq allows for simple, economical, and efficient identification of cell-specific miRNA expression estimates. Further development will enhance rapid identification of cell-specific miRNA expression estimates in health and disease for nearly any cell type using archival FFPE material.
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