MicroRNA

Structure, Function and Role in Cancer

Structure

microRNA (miRNA) is becoming one of the most interesting research areas in modern microbiology.  miRNA is one aspect of the human transcriptome that regulates gene expression.  Although introduced in 2001, it was not until 2004 in which the role of miRNA in gene regulation became clear.  miRNA controls how genes are turned on or off and also regulate or limit the production of proteins through a process called RNA interference (RNAi).  Research in gene expression regulation, particularly microRNA, gained an increase in significance as geneticists concluded that the human genome contained far fewer genes than previously theorized.  There is some speculation that the somewhat newly discovered role of microRNA could be as important as the process of transcription.

Current theories suggest that microRNAs control nearly 30% of all the genes in humans.  Despite this significance, microRNAs are tiny units in the human genome.  Endogenous microRNA are comprised of a single strand of RNA and are 20-23 nucleotides in length.  Although difficult to isolate and detect in early attempts due to its small size, modern advances and technologies allow microRNA to be detected, amplified and sequenced.

Function

RNAi is a function of the action of miRNA which regulate gene expression by inhibiting translation or transcription of its complementary mRNA sequence.  Much like siRNA (a double-stranded 18-24 bp RNA ending with two overhanging nucleotides and phosphorylated 5′ ends and hydroxylated 3′ ends), miRNA may be inherent to the cell or introduced by artificial means and are similarly short-lived.  miRNA perform their function of gene silencing by entering the RISC complex, loaded into Argonaut-2 and then binding to its complementary mRNA target sequence.  Since mRNA is the template for protein synthesis, a microRNA that is bound to the 3’-UTR of mRNA signals ribosomes to skip protein production for this molecule.

microRNA in vivo transfection kits were developed by Altogen Biosystems.

miRNA encapsulation and transfection services are provided by Altogen Labs.

Role in Cancer

The publication rate of miRNAs have been exponential for the past decade in regards to newly validated targets, such as Tumor/Normal Adjacent Tumor expression studies to determine gene dysregulation and involvement in disease.  miRNA research is leading to major breakthroughs in the understanding of several diseases, such as involvement with leukemia, heart disease, obesity and resistance to HIV in AIDS patients.

Most importantly is the role of miRNA in the initiation and spread of cancer.  The details of how a cancerous melanoma region travels to the lungs, liver or brain from tumors located on the skin’s surface has been a point of discussion amongst scientists and is considered a key point of interest in cancer research.  Current ideology regarding miRNA’s involvement with tumor suppressors and oncogenes leads scientists to believe that miRNA could be the key player in making melanoma more resistant to therapy.  Details were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and provide reasoning as to why microRNA is a hotly targeted area in cancer research.