Deciphering the mechanisms underlying skeletal muscle-cell differentiation in mammals is an important challenge. Cell differentiation involves complex pathways regulated at both transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. Recent observations have revealed the importance of small (20-25 base pair) non-coding RNAs (microRNAs or miRNAs) that are expressed in both lower organisms and in mammals. miRNAs modulate gene expression by affecting mRNA translation or stability. In lower organisms, miRNAs are essential for cell differentiation during development; some miRNAs are involved in maintenance of the differentiated state. Here, we show that miR-181, a microRNA that is strongly upregulated during differentiation, participates in establishing the muscle phenotype. Moreover, our results suggest that miR-181 downregulates the homeobox protein Hox-A11 (a repressor of the differentiation process), thus establishing a functional link between miR-181 and the complex process of mammalian skeletal-muscle differentiation. Therefore, miRNAs can be involved in the establishment of a differentiated phenotype - even when they are not expressed in the corresponding fully differentiated tissue.