Invited review: decoding the microRNA response to hypoxia
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- Pocock, R. Pflugers Arch - Eur J Physiol (2011) 461: 307. doi:10.1007/s00424-010-0910-5
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microRNAs (miRNAs) were discovered nearly two decades ago by researchers who sought to understand how basic developmental mechanisms work in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Since the identification of conserved miRNA families in higher eukaryotes, there has been an explosion of interest into how these tiny RNA molecules function. miRNAs are 20–24 nucleotide non-coding RNA molecules that predominantly regulate transcripts of target genes through translational inhibition. Much recent interest has focused on the influence of miRNAs on homeostatic regulation, and in particular, hypoxic responses. The ability to sense and respond to hypoxia is of fundamental importance to aerobic organisms and dysregulated oxygen homeostasis is a hallmark in the pathophysiology of cancer, neurological dysfunction, myocardial infarction, and lung disease. miRNAs are ideal mediators of hypoxic stress responses as they are able to modify gene expression both rapidly and reversibly. This enables miRNA-mediated gene regulatory circuits to modify metabolic networks with immaculate precision and control. Therefore, one may consider miRNAs as molecular rheostats which effect tuning and switching of regulatory circuits to facilitate survival and adaptation to hypoxic conditions. Such miRNA-mediated regulatory circuits would provide flexible and conditional alternatives to “conventional” transcriptional regulation. Here, I review recent discoveries that have boosted our understanding of miRNA regulation of hypoxia and discuss where future breakthroughs in this area may be made.