, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 621–631 | Cite as

Epigenetics and ncRNAs in Brain Function and Disease: Mechanisms and Prospects for Therapy

  • Miguel A. Varela
  • Thomas C. Roberts
  • Matthew J. A. Wood


The most fundamental roles of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) and epigenetic mechanisms are the guidance of cellular differentiation in development and the regulation of gene expression in adult tissues. In brain, both ncRNAs and the various epigenetic gene regulatory mechanisms play a fundamental role in neurogenesis and normal neuronal function. Thus, epigenetic chromatin remodelling can render coding sites transcriptionally inactive by DNA methylation, histone modifications or antisense RNA interactions. On the other hand, microRNAs (miRNAs) are ncRNA molecules that can regulate the expression of hundreds of genes post-transcriptionally, typically recognising binding sites in the 3′ untranslated region (UTR) of mRNA transcripts. Furthermore, there are a myriad of interactions in the interface of miRNAs and epigenetics. For example, epigenetic mechanisms can silence miRNA coding sites, and miRNAs can be the effectors of transcriptional gene silencing, targeting complementary promoters or silencing the expression of epigenetic modifier genes like MECP2 and EZH2 leading to global changes in the epigenome. Alterations in this regulatory machinery play a key role in the pathology of complex disorders including cancer and neurological diseases. For example, miRNA genes are frequently inactivated by epimutations in gliomas. Here we describe the interactions between epigenetic and ncRNA regulatory systems and discuss therapeutic potential, with an emphasis on tumors, cognitive disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.


Epigenetics Cancer miRNA ncRNA Neurodegeneration 

Supplementary material

13311_2013_212_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (510 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 510 kb)


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Copyright information

© The American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miguel A. Varela
    • 1
  • Thomas C. Roberts
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew J. A. Wood
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physiology, Anatomy and GeneticsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Molecular and Experimental MedicineThe Scripps Research InstituteLa JollaUSA

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