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Dr. Mirco Castoldi - Articles and news items
Cell-free nucleic acids circulating in human blood were first described in 19481. However, it was not until the work of Sorengon and colleagues was published in 19942 that the importance of circulating nucleic acid (cfNA) was recognised. Today, the detection of diverse type of cfNA3 in blood and other body fluids is a valuable resource for the identification of a novel biomarker4,5. Although different types of cfNA have been described (including DNA, mRNA and microRNA), this review focuses on the isolation, detection and clinical utility of circulating microRNAs.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are an abundant class of short single stranded non-coding RNAs (~22 nts) that regulate gene expression at the posttranscriptional level. Interaction between an miRNA and any given of its mRNA targets results in either translation inhibition, mRNA degradation or a combination of both mechanisms. Therefore, miRNAs activity effectively reduces the transcriptional output of a target gene, without affecting its transcription rate. Currently, the sequence of over 60,000 microRNAs are deposited in the miRBase database [Version 17, April 20116]. miRNA activity has been associated with the control of a wide range of basic processes such as development, differentiation and metabolism. Detection of differential expression of miRNAs in many cases have established the basis for miRNA functional analysis and specific miRNA expression patterns can provide valuable diagnostic and prognostic indications, for example, in the context of human malignancies7,8. Moreover, the deregulation of the expression of miRNAs has been shown to contribute to cancer development through various kinds of mechanisms, including deletions, amplification or mutations involving miRNA loci, epigenetic silencing, as well as the dysregulation of transcription factors that target specific miRNAs9,10.
Alteration of microRNA (miRNA) expression in a disease compared to a healthy state and/or correlation of miRNA expression with clinical parameters (like disease progression or therapy response), may indicate that miRNAs can serve as clinically relevant biomarkers1-3. An important first step for further functional characterisation is the information about differential miRNA expression in cellular processes such as; differentiation4,5, proliferation or apoptosis,6 that may determine which disease causing genes are specifically regulated by miRNAs, or vice versa; which genes regulate miRNA expression.
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