Understanding microRNA-mediated gene regulatory networks through mathematical modelling

Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 Jul 27;44(13):6019-35. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw550. Epub 2016 Jun 17.


The discovery of microRNAs (miRNAs) has added a new player to the regulation of gene expression. With the increasing number of molecular species involved in gene regulatory networks, it is hard to obtain an intuitive understanding of network dynamics. Mathematical modelling can help dissecting the role of miRNAs in gene regulatory networks, and we shall here review the most recent developments that utilise different mathematical modelling approaches to provide quantitative insights into the function of miRNAs in the regulation of gene expression. Key miRNA regulation features that have been elucidated via modelling include: (i) the role of miRNA-mediated feedback and feedforward loops in fine-tuning of gene expression; (ii) the miRNA-target interaction properties determining the effectiveness of miRNA-mediated gene repression; and (iii) the competition for shared miRNAs leading to the cross-regulation of genes. However, there is still lack of mechanistic understanding of many other properties of miRNA regulation like unconventional miRNA-target interactions, miRNA regulation at different sub-cellular locations and functional miRNA variant, which will need future modelling efforts to deal with. This review provides an overview of recent developments and challenges in this field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / genetics*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Models, Theoretical*


  • MicroRNAs