Non-Invasive microRNA Profiling in Saliva can Serve as a Biomarker of Alcohol Exposure and Its Effects in Humans

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Frontiers in genetics






abuse; alcohol; array; biomarker; microRNA; profiling; saliva


Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is one of the most prevalent mental disorders worldwide. Considering the widespread occurrence of AUD, a reliable, cheap, non-invasive biomarker of alcohol consumption is desired by healthcare providers, clinicians, researchers, public health and criminal justice officials. microRNAs could serve as such biomarkers. They are easily detectable in saliva, which can be sampled from individuals in a non-invasive manner. Moreover, microRNAs expression is dynamically regulated by environmental factors, including alcohol. Since excessive alcohol consumption is a hallmark of alcohol abuse, we have profiled microRNA expression in the saliva of chronic, heavy alcohol abusers using microRNA microarrays. We observed significant changes in salivary microRNA expression caused by excessive alcohol consumption. These changes fell into three categories: downregulated microRNAs, upregulated microRNAs, and microRNAs upregulated . Analysis of these combinatorial changes in microRNA expression suggests dysregulation of specific biological pathways leading to impairment of the immune system and development of several types of epithelial cancer. Moreover, some of the altered microRNAs are also modulators of inflammation, suggesting their contribution to pro-inflammatory mechanisms of alcohol actions. Establishment of the cellular source of microRNAs in saliva corroborated these results. We determined that most of the microRNAs in saliva come from two types of cells: leukocytes involved in immune responses and inflammation, and buccal cells, involved in development of epithelial, oral cancers. In summary, we propose that microRNA profiling in saliva can be a useful, non-invasive biomarker allowing the monitoring of alcohol abuse, as well as alcohol-related inflammation and early detection of cancer.


School of Medicine and Health Sciences Resident Works