In the brain, the connection between sensory information triggered by the presence of a stressor and the organism's reaction involves limbic areas such as the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Consequently, these brain regions are the most sensitive to stress-induced changes in neuronal plasticity. However, the specific effects of stress on neuronal plasticity in these regions largely differ. Despite these regional differences, in many cases the steps leading to brain adaptation to stress involve highly coordinated changes in gene expression affecting cell metabolism, neuronal plasticity and synaptic transmission. In adult life the effects of stress on neuronal plasticity are largely reversible but stress in early life induces persistent changes in neuronal plasticity that increases vulnerability to develop psychopathologies and aging-related cognitive decline, suggesting the involvement of epigenetic mechanisms. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that microRNAs (miRs) are key players in epigenetic regulation. In this forefront review we present a critical look on the literature demonstrating the regulation of neuronal plasticity by miRs and the molecular mechanisms of target specificity in neurons. We propose that further progress in the identification of miR's function beyond single target identification would require a combination of developmental expression studies, bioinformatics and a deeper understanding of large networks of targets involved in epigenetic regulation. This will help to extend our understanding of the role miRs play in the regulation of stress-induced neuronal plasticity.
Copyright © 2013 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.