BACKGROUND: Nearly 10 years ago, the World Health Organization reported the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity worldwide as a challenge for public health due to the associated adverse consequences. Epidemiological studies established a firm relationship between an elevated body mass index and chronic conditions such as diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and some types of cancer. Omic studies demonstrated that microRNA (miRNA) profile changes in tissues correlate with a number of diseases, including obesity. Recent studies showed a remarkable stability of miRNAs also in blood, emphasizing their potential as theranostic agents for a variety of disorders and conditions. A number of miRNAs enriched in homeostasis of obesity and metabolic disorders have been characterized in previous researches. AIM: This work was finalized to investigate the differential circulating miRNAs signature in early childhood obesity. Our cross-sectional study analyzed the signature of circulating miRNAs in plasma samples of normal weight (n = 159) and overweight/obese (n = 149) children and adolescents participating to the I.Family study, an EC-funded study finalized to investigate the etiology of overweight, obesity and related disorders and the determinants of food choice, lifestyle, and related health outcomes in children and adolescents of eight European countries (www.ifamilystudy.eu). RESULTS:
Differences in miRNA signature with respect to anthropometric and biochemical variables were analyzed. A high degree of variability in levels of circulating miRNAs was identified among children from different countries, in line with recent reports supporting the hypothesis that these molecules are likewise affected by environmental and lifestyle factors. A panel of miRNAs differentially expressed in overweight/low-grade obesity children was characterized (miR-551a and miR-501-5p resulted upregulated; miR-10b-5p, miR-191-3p, miR-215-5p, and miR-874-3p resulted downregulated). ROC curves were also constructed for experimentally confirmed miRNAs. Single miRNAs generally exhibited low AUC values with the highest values for miR-874-3p and miR-501-5p which in combination provided an interesting value (AUC = 0.782). Pearson’s analysis confirmed that miR-10b-5p, miR-215-5p, miR-501-5p, miR-551a, and miR-874-3p significantly correlated with BMI z-score. Molecular interactions of obesity-associated miRNAs were also predicted by bioinformatics tools. CONCLUSIONS: Our work showed that several circulating miRNAs are differentially represented in overweight/low-grade obesity children and adolescents. Although causal pathways cannot be firmly inferred, it is conceivable that circulating miRNAs may be new biomarkers of early childhood obesity.