Pancreatic β-cells play a central role in glucose homeostasis by tightly regulating insulin release according to the organism's demand. Impairment of β-cell function due to hostile environment, such as hyperglycaemia and hyperlipidaemia, or due to autoimmune destruction of β-cells, results in diabetes onset. Both environmental factors and genetic predisposition are known to be involved in the development of the disease, but the exact mechanisms leading to β-cell dysfunction and death remain to be characterized. Non-coding RNA molecules, such as microRNAs (miRNAs), have been suggested to be necessary for proper β-cell development and function. The present review aims at summarizing the most recent findings about the role of non-coding RNAs in the control of β-cell functions and their involvement in diabetes. We will also provide a perspective view of the future research directions in the field of non-coding RNAs. In particular, we will discuss the implications for diabetes research of the discovery of a new communication mechanism based on cell-to-cell miRNA transfer. Moreover, we will highlight the emerging interconnections between miRNAs and epigenetics and the possible role of long non-coding RNAs in the control of β-cell activities.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.