• Open Access

MicroRNAs and micromanaging the skeleton in disease, development and evolution


*Correspondence to: Dr. John H. POSTLETHWAIT, Professor of Biology, Institute of Neuroscience, 1254 University of Oregon, 1425 E. 13th Avenue, Office: 324 Huestis, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.
Tel.: 541-346-4538;
Fax: 541-346-4538
E-mail: jpostle@uoneuro.uoregon.edu


  • • Introduction
  • • The skeleton in evolution, health and disease
  • • An overview of skeletal development
  • • miRNA biogenesis
  • • miRNAs and genome evolution
  • • microRNAs and the micromanagement of development
  • • Micromanaging skeletal system development
  • • Candidate miRNAs controlling skeletal development
  • • The function of mirn140 in skeletal development: a case study
  • • miRNAs and Hox gene patterning of the axial skeleton
  • • microRNAs and microevolution: a hypothesis
  • • Skeletal miRNAs and skeletal disease
  • • Conclusions


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, non-protein-encoding RNAs that effect post-transcriptional gene regulation by targeting messenger RNAs. miRNAs are associated with specific human diseases and help regulate development. Here we review recent advances in understanding the roles of miRNAs in skeletal malformations, including cleft palate, and in the evolution of skeletal morphologies. We propose the hypothesis that evolutionary variation in miRNA expression patterns or structural variation in miRNA binding sites in messenger RNAs can help explain the evolution of craniofacial variation among species, the development of human craniofacial disease and physiological changes leading to osteopenia that increases with ageing.