Viral miRNAs

Methods Mol Biol. 2011;721:43-66. doi: 10.1007/978-1-61779-037-9_3.


Since 2004, more than 200 microRNAs (miRNAs) have been discovered in double-stranded DNA viruses, mainly herpesviruses and polyomaviruses (Nucleic Acids Res 32:D109-D111, 2004). miRNAs are short 22 ± 3 nt RNA molecules that posttranscriptionally regulate gene expression by binding to 3'-untranslated regions (3'UTR) of target mRNAs, thereby inducing translational silencing and/or transcript degradation (Nature 431:350-355, 2004; Cell 116:281-297, 2004). Since miRNAs require only limited complementarity for binding, miRNA targets are difficult to determine (Mol Cell 27:91-105, 2007). To date, targets have only been experimentally verified for relatively few viral miRNAs, which either target viral or host cellular gene expression: For example, SV40 and related polyomaviruses encode miRNAs which target viral large T antigen expression (Nature 435:682-686, 2005; J Virol 79:13094-13104, 2005; Virology 383:183-187, 2009; J Virol 82:9823-9828, 2008) and miRNAs of α-, β-, and γ-herpesviruses have been implicated in regulating the transition from latent to lytic gene expression, a key step in the herpesvirus life cycle. Viral miRNAs have also been shown to target various host cellular genes. Although this field is just beginning to unravel the multiple roles of viral miRNA in biology and pathogenesis, the current data strongly suggest that virally encoded miRNAs are able to regulate fundamental biological processes such as immune recognition, promotion of cell survival, angiogenesis, proliferation, and cell differentiation. This chapter aims to summarize our current knowledge of viral miRNAs, their targets and function, and the challenges lying ahead to decipher their role in viral biology, pathogenesis, and for γ-herepsvirus-encoded miRNAs, potentially tumorigenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genes, Viral / genetics
  • Herpesviridae / genetics
  • Herpesviridae / physiology
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs* / biosynthesis
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics
  • MicroRNAs* / metabolism
  • Polyomavirus / genetics
  • Polyomavirus / physiology
  • RNA, Viral* / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Viral* / genetics
  • RNA, Viral* / metabolism
  • Viruses* / genetics


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Viral