Functional aspects of animal microRNAs
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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a recently discovered family of small regulatory molecules that function by modulating protein production. There are approximately 500 known mammalian miRNA genes, and each miRNA may regulate hundreds of different protein-coding genes. Mature miRNAs bind to target mRNAs in a protein complex known as the miRNA-induced silencing complex (miRISC), sometimes referred to as the miRNP (miRNA-containing ribonucleoprotein particles), where mRNA translation is inhibited or mRNA is degraded. These actions of miRNAs have been shown to regulate several developmental and physiological processes including stem cell differentiation, haematopoiesis, cardiac and skeletal muscle development, neurogenesis, insulin secretion, cholesterol metabolism and the immune response. Furthermore, aberrant expression has been implicated in a number of diseases including cancer and heart disease. The role of miRNAs in these developmental, physiological and pathological processes will be reviewed.