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This article has been peer-reviewed. It is the author's final version prior to publication in Mammalian Genome 17(3):189-202, March 2006. The original publication is available at Copyright is retained by Springer.


The basis of eukaryotic complexity is an intricate genetic architecture where parallel systems are involved in tuning gene expression, via RNA-DNA, RNA-RNA and RNA-protein and DNA-protein interactions. In higher organisms, about 97% of the transcriptional output is represented by non-coding RNA (ncRNA) encompassing not only rRNA, tRNA, introns, 5’ and 3’-untranslated regions, transposable elements and intergenic regions, but also a large rapidly emerging family, named microRNAs. MicroRNAs are short 20-22 nucleotide RNA molecules that have been shown to regulate the expression of other genes in a variety of eukaryotic systems. MicroRNAs are formed from larger transcripts that fold to produce hairpin structures and serve as substrates for the cytoplasmic Dicer, a member of the RNase III enzyme family. A recent analysis of the genomic location of human microRNA genes suggested that 50% of microRNA genes are located in cancer-associated genomic regions or in fragile sites. This review focuses on the possible implications of microRNAs in post-transcriptional gene regulation in mammalian diseases, with particular focus on cancer. We argue that developing mouse models for deleted and/or overexpressed microRNAs will be of invaluable interest to decipher the regulatory networks where microRNAs are involved.

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