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Reduced physical performance reduces quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Impaired physical performance is, in part, a consequence of reduced muscle mass and function, which is accompanied by mitochondrial dysfunction. We recently showed that miR-542-3p and miR-542-5p were elevated in a small cohort of COPD patients and more markedly in critical care patients. In mice, these microRNAs (miRNAs) promoted mitochondrial dysfunction suggesting that they would affect physical performance in patients with COPD, but we did not explore the association of these miRNAs with disease severity or physical performance further. We therefore quantified miR-542-3p/5p and mitochondrial rRNA expression in RNA extracted from quadriceps muscle of patients with COPD and determined their association with physical performance. As miR-542-3p inhibits ribosomal protein synthesis its ability to inhibit protein synthesis was also determined in vitro. Both miR-542-3p expression and -5p expression were elevated in patients with COPD (5-fold P < 0.001) and the degree of elevation associated with impaired lung function (transfer capacity of the lung for CO in % and forced expiratory volume in 1 s in %) and physical performance (6-min walk distance in %). In COPD patients, the ratio of 12S rRNA to 16S rRNA was suppressed suggesting mitochondrial ribosomal stress and mitochondrial dysfunction and miR-542-3p/5p expression was inversely associated with mitochondrial gene expression and positively associated with p53 activity. miR-542-3p suppressed RPS23 expression and maximal protein synthesis in vitro. Our data show that miR-542-3p and -5p expression is elevated in COPD patients and may suppress physical performance at least in part by inhibiting mitochondrial and cytoplasmic ribosome synthesis and suppressing protein synthesis. NEW & NOTEWORTHY miR-542-3p and -5p are elevated in the quadriceps muscle of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in proportion to the severity of their lung disease. These microRNAs inhibit mitochondrial and cytoplasmic protein synthesis suggesting that they contribute to impaired exercise performance in COPD.

Original publication




Journal article


J appl physiol (1985)

Publication Date





1514 - 1524


chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, microRNA, mitochondrial and cytoplasmic ribosomes