Mature microRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded RNA molecules of 20-23 nucleotide (nt) length that control gene expression in many cellular processes. These molecules typically reduce the stability of mRNAs, including those of genes that mediate processes in tumorigenesis, such as inflammation, cell cycle regulation, stress response, differentiation, apoptosis and invasion. miRNA targeting is mostly achieved through specific base-pairing interactions between the 5' end ('seed' region) of the miRNA and sites within coding and untranslated regions (UTRs) of mRNAs; target sites in the 3' UTR lead to more effective mRNA destabilization. Since miRNAs frequently target hundreds of mRNAs, miRNA regulatory pathways are complex. To provide a critical overview of miRNA dysregulation in cancer, we first discuss the methods currently available for studying the role of miRNAs in cancer and then review miRNA genomic organization, biogenesis and mechanism of target recognition, examining how these processes are altered in tumorigenesis. Given the critical role miRNAs play in tumorigenesis processes and their disease-specific expression, they hold potential as therapeutic targets and novel biomarkers.
Copyright © 2010 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.