MicroRNAs (miRNA) regulate breast biology by binding to specific RNA sequences, leading to RNA degradation and inhibition of translation of their target genes. While germline genetic variations may disrupt some of these interactions between miRNAs and their targets, studies assessing the relationship between genetic variations in the miRNA network and breast cancer risk are still limited, particularly among women of African ancestry. We systematically put together a list of 822 and 10,468 genetic variants among primary miRNA sequences and 38 genes in the miRNA biogenesis pathway, respectively; and examined their association with breast cancer risk in the ROOT consortium which includes women of African ancestry. Findings were replicated in an independent consortium. Logistic regression was used to estimate the odds ratio (OR) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI). For overall breast cancer risk, three single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in miRNA biogenesis genes DROSHA rs78393591 (OR = 0.69, 95 % CI: 0.55–0.88, P = 0.003), ESR1 rs523736 (OR = 0.88, 95 % CI: 0.82–0.95, P = 3.99 × 10−4), and ZCCHC11 rs114101502 (OR = 1.33, 95 % CI: 1.11–1.59, P = 0.002), and one SNP in primary miRNA sequence (rs116159732 in miR-6826, OR = 0.74, 95 % CI: 0.63–0.89, P = 0.001) were found to have significant associations in both discovery and validation phases. In a subgroup analysis, two SNPs were associated with risk of estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer, and three SNPs were associated with risk of ER-positive breast cancer. Several variants in miRNA and miRNA biogenesis pathway genes were associated with breast cancer risk. Risk associations varied by ER status, suggesting potential new mechanisms in etiology.
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