MicroRNAs and cancer


  • Invited Review.

Jack B. Cowland , The Granulocyte Research Laboratory, Department of Hematology 93.2.2 , Rigshospitalet , Blegdamsvej 9 , DK- 2100 Copenhagen Denmark . e-mail: jack.cowland@rh.regionh.dk


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a recently discovered group of small RNA molecules involved in the regulation of gene expression. Analogously to mRNAs, the non-protein-encoding pri-miRNAs are synthesized by RNA polymerase II and post-transcriptionally modified by addition of a 5′-cap and a 3′-poly (A) tail. Subsequently, the pri-miRNA undergoes a number of processing steps in the nucleus and cytoplasm, and ends up as a mature ∼22 nt miRNA, which can exert its function by binding to the 3′-untranslated region of a subset of mRNAs. Binding of the miRNA to the mRNA results in a reduced translation rate and/or increased degradation of the mRNA. In this way a large number of cellular pathways, such as cellular proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis, are regulated by mi-RNAs. As corruption of these pathways is the hallmark of many cancers, dysregulation of miRNA biogenesis or expression levels may lead to tumorigenesis. The mechanisms that alter the expression of miRNAs are similar to those that change the expression levels of mRNAs of tumor suppressor- and oncogenes, i.e. gross genomic aberrations, epigenetic changes, and minor mutations affecting the expression level, processing, or target-interaction potential of the miRNA. Furthermore, expression profiling of miRNAs has been found to be useful for classification of different tumor types. Taken together, miRNAs can be classified as onco-miRs or tumor suppressor-miRs, and may turn out to be potential targets for cancer therapy.