Transfer and functional consequences of dietary microRNAs in vertebrates: concepts in search of corroboration: negative results challenge the hypothesis that dietary xenomiRs cross the gut and regulate genes in ingesting vertebrates, but important questions persist

Bioessays. 2014 Apr;36(4):394-406. doi: 10.1002/bies.201300150. Epub 2014 Jan 16.


If validated, diet-derived foreign microRNA absorption and function in consuming vertebrates would drastically alter our understanding of nutrition and ecology. RNA interference (RNAi) mechanisms of Caenorhabditis elegans are enhanced by uptake of environmental RNA and amplification and systemic distribution of RNAi effectors. Therapeutic exploitation of RNAi in treating human disease is difficult because these accessory processes are absent or diminished in most animals. A recent report challenged multiple paradigms, suggesting that ingested microRNAs (miRNAs) are transferred to blood, accumulate in tissues, and exert canonical regulation of endogenous transcripts. Independent replication of these findings has been elusive, and multiple disconfirmatory findings have been published. In the face of mounting negative results, any additional positive reports must provide the proverbial "extraordinary proof" to support such claims. In this article, we review the evidence for and against a significant role for dietary miRNAs in influencing gene expression, and make recommendations for future studies. Also watch the Video Abstract.

Keywords: RNAi; cholesterol; diet; epigenetics; exosome; microRNA; nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Diet*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Intestines / physiology
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / pharmacokinetics*
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Plant / pharmacokinetics
  • Vertebrates / genetics*


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Plant