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Keywords:

  • microRNAs;
  • tumourigenesis;
  • apoptosis
  • • 
    Introduction
  • • 
    miR biogenesis
  • • 
    miR and Cancer
  • • 
    miR and Apoptosis
    • - 
      The pro-apoptotic miRs targeting the BCL2 family of genes
    • - 
      The anti-apoptotic miR-21 targets PTEN and PDCD4
    • - 
      miR-210 decreases proapoptotic signalling in a hypoxic environment
    • - 
      Let-7/miR-98 family and possible co-operation with miR-21
    • - 
      miR-17–92 cluster highlights the complexity of miR regulatory networks
    • - 
      miR-224, the double-edged sword
    • - 
      Other miRs implicated in apoptosis
  • • 
    Conclusion

Abstract

MicroRNAs (miRs) are small non-coding RNAs regulating gene expression at the post-transcriptional and/or translational levels. miRs play important roles in diverse biological processes, including development, cell differentiation, proliferation and apoptosis. Recent evidence has shown that miR loci frequently map to cancer-associated genomic regions and deregulated miR expression profiles are associated with many cancer types, implicating miRs in crucial processes that lead to tumourigenesis. Here, we review the current findings about miRs and tumourigenesis, focusing on their involvement in the apoptosis pathway. A significant observation is that greater than one-quarter of all known human miRs were reported to be deregulated in at least one cancer type. The expression of a subset of miRs (e.g. miR-21 and miR-155) was found to be consistently up-regulated, whereas another subset of miRs (e.g.miR-143 and miR-145) was consistently down-regulated across different cancer types suggesting their involvement in regulating common cellular processes whose deregulation may lead to tumourigenesis. Several miRs were implicated to play roles in cell proliferation and apoptosis. Some miRs, such as miR-29b and miR-15–16, influence only the apoptotic pathway, whereas others including let-7/miR-98 and miR-17–92 may play roles in both the apoptotic and cell-proliferation pathways. In conclusion, although our current understanding of the functions of miRs is still fragmentary, taken together, this review highlights the complex and intricate roles that miRs play in the regulation of cellular processes. Perturbation of the expression of miRs may thus lead to tumourigenesis.