microRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small non-coding endogenous RNA molecules that regulate a wide range of biological processes by post-transcriptionally regulating gene expression. Thousands of these molecules have been discovered to date, and multiple miRNAs have been shown to coordinately fine-tune cellular processes key to organismal development, homeostasis, neurobiology, immunobiology, and control of infection. The fundamental regulatory role of miRNAs in a variety of biological processes suggests that differential expression of these transcripts may be exploited as a novel source of molecular biomarkers for many different disease pathologies or abnormalities. This has been emphasized by the recent discovery of remarkably stable miRNAs in mammalian biofluids, which may originate from intracellular processes elsewhere in the body. The potential of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers of disease has mainly been demonstrated for various types of cancer. More recently, however, attention has focused on the use of circulating miRNAs as diagnostic/prognostic biomarkers of infectious disease; for example, human tuberculosis caused by infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, sepsis caused by multiple infectious agents, and viral hepatitis. Here, we review these developments and discuss prospects and challenges for translating circulating miRNA into novel diagnostics for infectious disease.
Keywords: biomarker; diagnostic; infection; microRNA; plasma; serum; transcriptomics.