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MicroRNAs and Their Role in Cancer

  1. Manuela Ferracin,
  2. Massimo Negrini

Published Online: 16 APR 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021434



How to Cite

Ferracin, M. and Negrini, M. 2012. MicroRNAs and Their Role in Cancer. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Ferrara, Department of Experimental and Diagnostic Medicine and Laboratory for Technologies of Advanced Therapies (LTTA), Ferrara, Italy

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 16 APR 2012


Microribonucleic acids (miRNAs) are short, noncoding RNAs that act as post-transcription regulators and are able to modulate the expression of hundreds of target genes. In the past few years, they gained a very important role in oncology. Indeed, many of them can be now considered tumour suppressor genes or oncogenes. In cancer, they appeared to have a dysregulated expression due to genetic aberrations, altered methylation or irregular processing that finally lead to an altered modulation of their target genes.

Each cancer type displayed specific alterations of specific miRNAs, and their exceptional stability confer to miRNAs a strong potential as cancer therapeutics. Finally, miRNAs are stable and detectable as circulating molecules in blood of cancer patients. For this reason they are going to become useful biomarkers in cancer diagnostics.

Key Concepts:

  • In the last few years, miRNAs have produced a micro-revolution in cancer research because of their action as oncogenes or tumour suppressor genes.

  • miRNA expression profiling may be used for cancer classification and for the identification of cancer subtypes.

  • A promising role of miRNA in prognosis stratification has been proposed.

  • Several studies indicated miRNAs as predictors of drug response.

  • miRNA polymorphisms may modify innate genetic susceptibility to cancer: SNPs in miRNAs and their gene targets may alter cancer susceptibility.

  • miRNAs as cancer biomarkers detected in plasma or serum of patients seem to be very promising in terms of efficacy and specificity.

  • miRNA may represent important therapeutic targets and can be effectively targeted in vivo.


  • microRNA;
  • cancer;
  • oncogene;
  • tumour suppressor gene;
  • therapy;
  • prognosis;
  • biomarker