MicroRNAs: control and loss of control in human physiology and disease

World J Surg. 2009 Apr;33(4):667-84. doi: 10.1007/s00268-008-9836-x.


Analysis of the human genome indicates that a large fraction of the genome sequences are RNAs that do not encode any proteins, also known as non-coding RNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a group of small non-coding RNA molecules 20-22 nucleotides (nt) in length that are predicted to control the activity of approximately 30% of all protein-coding genes in mammals. miRNAs play important roles in many diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and immune disorders. The expression of miRNAs can be regulated by epigenetic modification, DNA copy number change, and genetic mutations. miRNAs can serve as a valuable therapeutic target for a large number of diseases. For miRNAs with oncogenic capabilities, potential therapies include miRNA silencing, antisense blocking, and miRNA modifications. For miRNAs with tumor suppression functions, overexpression of those miRNAs might be a useful strategy to inhibit tumor growth. In this review, we discuss the current progress of miRNA research, regulation of miRNA expression, prediction of miRNA targets, and regulatory role of miRNAs in human physiology and diseases, with a specific focus on miRNAs in pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease, the immune system, and infectious disease. This review provides valuable information for clinicians and researchers who want to recognize the newest advances in this new field and identify possible lines of investigation in miRNAs as important mediators in human physiology and diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Databases, Nucleic Acid
  • Gene Silencing / physiology
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / drug effects
  • MicroRNAs / immunology
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / physiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • RNA, Untranslated / physiology
  • Software
  • Targeted Gene Repair
  • Untranslated Regions / genetics
  • Untranslated Regions / physiology


  • MIRN146 microRNA, human
  • MIRN150 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • Untranslated Regions