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Biochem Soc Trans. 2012 Aug;40(4):886-90. doi: 10.1042/BST20120019.

Extracellular small RNAs: what, where, why?

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Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, Ashworth Laboratories, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


miRNAs (microRNAs) are a class of small RNA that regulate gene expression by binding to mRNAs and modulating the precise amount of proteins that get expressed in a cell at a given time. This form of gene regulation plays an important role in developmental systems and is critical for the proper function of numerous biological pathways. Although miRNAs exert their functions inside the cell, these and other classes of RNA are found in body fluids in a cell-free form that is resistant to degradation by RNases. A broad range of cell types have also been shown to secrete miRNAs in association with components of the RISC (RNA-induced silencing complex) and/or encapsulation within vesicles, which can be taken up by other cells. In the present paper, we provide an overview of the properties of extracellular miRNAs in relation to their capacity as biomarkers, stability against degradation and mediators of cell-cell communication.

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