, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 189-202,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 03 Mar 2006

Mammalian microRNAs: a small world for fine-tuning gene expression

Abstract

The basis of eukaryotic complexity is an intricate genetic architecture where parallel systems are involved in tuning gene expression, via RNA-DNA, RNA-RNA, RNA-protein, and DNA-protein interactions. In higher organisms, about 97% of the transcriptional output is represented by noncoding RNA (ncRNA) encompassing not only rRNA, tRNA, introns, 5′ and 3′ untranslated regions, transposable elements, and intergenic regions, but also a large, rapidly emerging family named microRNAs. MicroRNAs are short 20-22-nucleotide RNA molecules that have been shown to regulate the expression of other genes in a variety of eukaryotic systems. MicroRNAs are formed from larger transcripts that fold to produce hairpin structures and serve as substrates for the cytoplasmic Dicer, a member of the RNase III enzyme family. A recent analysis of the genomic location of human microRNA genes suggested that 50% of microRNA genes are located in cancer-associated genomic regions or in fragile sites. This review focuses on the possible implications of microRNAs in post-transcriptional gene regulation in mammalian diseases, with particular focus on cancer. We argue that developing mouse models for deleted and/or overexpressed microRNAs will be of invaluable interest to decipher the regulatory networks where microRNAs are involved.