Re-thinking miRNA-mRNA interactions: intertwining issues confound target discovery

Bioessays. 2015 Apr;37(4):379-88. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400191. Epub 2015 Feb 12.


Despite a library full of literature on miRNA biology, core issues relating to miRNA target detection, biological effect, and mode of action remain controversial. This essay proposes that the predominant mechanism of direct miRNA action is translational inhibition, whereas the bulk of miRNA effects are mRNA based. It explores several issues confounding miRNA target detection, and discusses their impact on the dominance of "miRNA seed" dogma and the exploration of non-canonical binding sites. Finally, it makes comparisons between miRNA target prediction and transcription factor binding prediction, and questions the value of characterizing miRNA binding sites based on which miRNA nucleotides are paired with an mRNA.

Keywords: biotin pull-down; centered sites; direct interactions; mRNA destabilization; miRNA; non-canonical sites; seed sites; translational inhibition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors