Defects in craniofacial development represent a majority of observed human birth defects, occurring at a rate as high as 1:800 live births. These defects often occur due to changes in neural crest cell (NCC) patterning and development and can affect non-NCC-derived structures due to interactions between NCCs and the surrounding cell types. Proper craniofacial development requires an intricate array of gene expression networks that are tightly controlled spatiotemporally by a number of regulatory mechanisms. One of these mechanisms involves the action of microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of noncoding RNAs that repress gene expression by binding to miRNA recognition sequences typically located in the 3' UTR of target mRNAs. Recent evidence illustrates that miRNAs are crucial for vertebrate facial morphogenesis, with changes in miRNA expression leading to facial birth defects, including some in complex human syndromes such as 22q11 (DiGeorge Syndrome). In this review, we highlight the current understanding of miRNA biogenesis, the roles of miRNAs in overall craniofacial development, the impact that loss of miRNAs has on normal development and the requirement for miRNAs in the development of specific craniofacial structures, including teeth. From these studies, it is clear that miRNAs are essential for normal facial development and morphogenesis, and a potential key in establishing new paradigms for repair and regeneration of facial defects.
Keywords: 22q11 syndrome; Dicer; Knockout mouse; Odontogenesis; Palatogenesis; Salivary gland; Zebrafish; miRNA.
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