MicroRNAs are endogenous, small non-coding RNAs that control gene expression by directing their target mRNAs for degradation and/or posttranscriptional repression. Abnormal expression of microRNAs is thought to contribute to the development and progression of cancer. A history of benign breast disease (BBD) is associated with increased risk of subsequent breast cancer. However, no large-scale study has examined the association between microRNA expression in BBD tissue and risk of subsequent invasive breast cancer (IBC). We conducted discovery and validation case-control studies nested in a cohort of 15,395 women diagnosed with BBD in a large health plan between 1971 and 2006 and followed to mid-2015. Cases were women with BBD who developed subsequent IBC; controls were matched 1:1 to cases on age, age at diagnosis of BBD, and duration of plan membership. The discovery stage (316 case-control pairs) entailed use of the Illumina MicroRNA Expression Profiling Assay (in duplicate) to identify breast cancer-associated microRNAs. MicroRNAs identified at this stage were ranked by the strength of the correlation between Illumina array and quantitative PCR results for 15 case-control pairs. The top ranked 14 microRNAs entered the validation stage (165 case-control pairs) which was conducted using quantitative PCR (in triplicate). In both stages, linear regression was used to evaluate the association between the mean expression level of each microRNA (response variable) and case-control status (independent variable); paired t-tests were also used in the validation stage. None of the 14 validation stage microRNAs was associated with breast cancer risk. The results of this study suggest that microRNA expression in benign breast tissue does not influence the risk of subsequent IBC.
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