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Methods Mol Biol. 2006;342:1-18.

The microRNA: overview of the RNA gene that modulates gene functions.

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Department of Cell and Neurobiology, keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs), widely distributed, small regulatory RNA genes, target both messenger RNA (mRNA) degradation and suppression of protein translation based on sequence complementarity between the miRNA and its targeted mRNA. Different names have been used to describe various types of miRNA. During evolution, RNA retroviruses or transgenes invaded the eukaryotic genome and inserted itself in the noncoding regions of DNA, conceivably acting as transposon-like jumping genes, providing defense from viral invasion and fine-tuning of gene expression as a secondary level of gene modulation in eukaryotes. When a transposon is inserted in the intron, it becomes an intronic miRNA, taking advantage of the protein synthesis machinery, i.e., mRNA transcription and splicing, as a means for processing and maturation. Recently, miRNAs have been found to play an important, but not life-threatening, role in embryonic development. They might play a pivotal role in diverse biological systems in various organisms, facilitating a quick response and accurate plotting of body physiology and structures. Based on these unique properties, manufactured intronic miRNAs have been developed for in vitro evaluation of gene function, in vivo gene therapy, and generation of transgenic animal models. The biogenesis and identification of miRNAs, potential applications, and future directions for research are presented in this chapter, hopefully providing a guideline for further miRNA and gene function studies.

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