Circulating microRNAs: new biomarkers in diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of cancer (review)

Int J Oncol. 2012 Dec;41(6):1897-912. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2012.1647. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding, endogenous, single-stranded RNAs. MiRNAs have been implicated in different areas such as the immune response, neural development, DNA repair, apoptosis, oxidative stress response and cancer. However, while the majority of miRNAs are found intracellularly, a significant number of miRNAs have been observed outside of cells, including various body fluids. Circulating miRNAs function as 'extracellular communication RNAs' that play an important role in cell proliferation and differentiation. MiRNA regulation is essential to many cellular processes, and escape from this regulatory network seems to be a common characteristic of several disease processes and malignant transformation. The interest in circulating miRNAs reflects in fact their central role in regulation of gene expression and the implication of miRNA-specific aberrant expression in the pathogenesis of cancer, cardiac, metabolic, neurologic, immune-related diseases as well as others. In our review we aimed to summarize the data related to the action of cellular miRNAs on the onset of various diseases, thus bringing together some of the latest information available on the role of circulating miRNAs. Additionally, the role of circulating miRNAs could be particularly relevant in the context of neoplastic diseases. At least 79 miRNAs have been reported as plasma or serum miRNA biomarkers of solid and hematologic tumors. Circulating miRNA profiling could improve the diagnosis of cancer, and could predict outcome for cancer patients, while the profiling of alterations in circulating miRNA that may signal a predisposition to cancer, could also be a therapeutic target in these patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmune Diseases / diagnosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Cell Communication
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diagnosis
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Metabolic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Metabolic Diseases / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs