MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are emerging as master regulators of gene expression in the nervous system where they contribute not only to brain development but also to neuronal network homeostasis and plasticity. Their function is the result of a cascade of events including miRNA biogenesis, target recognition, and translation inhibition. It has been suggested that miRNAs are major switches of the genome owing to their ability to regulate multiple genes at the same time. This regulation is essential for normal neuronal activity and, when affected, can lead to drastic pathological conditions. As an example, we illustrate how deregulation of miRNAs can affect neuronal plasticity leading to chronic pain. The origin of pain and its dual role as a key physiological function and a debilitating disease has been highly debated until now. The incidence of chronic pain is estimated to be 20-25% worldwide, thus making it a public health problem. Chronic pain can be considered as a form of maladaptive plasticity. Long-lasting modifications develop as a result of global changes in gene expression, and are thus likely to be controlled by miRNAs. Here, we review the literature on miRNAs and their targets responsible for maladaptive plasticity in chronic pain conditions. In addition, we conduct a retrospective analysis of miRNA expression data published for different pain models, taking into account recent progress in our understanding of the role of miRNAs in neuronal plasticity.
Keywords: gene expression; microRNA; neuron; pain; plasticity.