Oncomirs: the potential role of non-coding microRNAs in understanding cancer

Bioinformation. 2008 May 20;2(8):330-4. doi: 10.6026/97320630002330.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are members of a family of non-coding RNAs of 8-24 nucleotide RNA molecules that regulate target mRNAs. The first miRNAs, lin-4 and let-7, were first discovered in the year 1993 by Ambros, Ruvkun, and co-workers while studying development in Caenorhabditis elegans. miRNAs can play vital functions form C. elegans to higher vertebrates by typical Watson-Crick base pairing to specific mRNAs to regulate the expression of a specific gene. It has been well established that multicellular eukaryotes utilize miRNAs to regulate many biological processes such as embryonic development, proliferation, differentiation, and cell death. Recent studies have shown that miRNAs may provide new insight in cancer research. A recent study demonstrated that more than 50% of miRNA genes are located in fragile sites and cancer-associated genomic regions, suggesting that miRNAs may play a more important role in the pathogenesis of human cancers. Exploiting the emerging knowledge of miRNAs for the development of new human therapeutic applications will be important. Recent studies suggest that miRNA expression profiling can be correlated with disease pathogenesis and prognosis, and may ultimately be useful in the management of human cancer. In this review, we focus on how miRNAs regulate tumorigenesis by acting as oncogenes and anti-oncogenes in higher eukaryotes.

Keywords: C. elegans; cancer; miRNA; non-coding; oncomirs.