In this review, we focus on the genetic variations (single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs) known to occur in microRNAs and in their binding sites and the susceptibility to cancers of the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract in humans. Since the sequence complementarity and the thermodynamics of binding play an essential role in the interaction of miRNA with its target mRNA, sequence variations in the miRNA-binding seed regions or in miRNA genes (either within pre-, pri-, or mature miRNA regions) should reinforce, weaken, or disrupt the miRNA-mRNA interaction and affect the expression of mRNA targets. Indirect evidences supporting these hypotheses are reported in the literature, essentially coming from case-control association studies. Several studies have been published on the association between miR-SNPs or SNPs within their binding sites and the risk of oesophageal, gastric, or colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, functional studies are lacking. Besides reviewing the available literature, we present here for the first time two SNPs (rs17281995 in CD86 and rs1051690 in INSR) previously associated with the risk of CRC in a Czech population are also associated with the risk in a Spanish population. Moreover, we show for the first time that both these alleles regulate differentially the amount of a reporter gene (luciferase) in an in vitro assay on HeLa cells. These findings suggest that both these SNPs may have a functional role in regulating the expression of CD-86 and INSR proteins acting at the level of the 3'UTR. More functional studies are needed in order to better understand the role of polymorphic regulatory sequences at the 3'UTR of genes.
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