Epigenetic Control of MicroRNA Expression and Aging

Liang, Ruqiang; Bates, David J.; Wang, Eugenia
May 2009
Current Genomics;May2009, Vol. 10 Issue 3, p184
Academic Journal
MicroRNAs are a major category among the noncoding RNA fraction that negatively regulate gene expression at the post-transcriptional level, by either degrading the target messages or inhibiting their translation. MicroRNAs may be referred to as ‘dimmer switches’ of gene expression, because of their ability to repress gene expression without completely silencing it. Whether through up-regulating specific groups of microRNAs to suppress unwanted gene expressions, or by down-regulating other microRNAs whose target genes' expression is necessary for cellular function, such as cell proliferation, apoptosis, or differentiation, these regulatory RNAs play pivotal roles in a wide variety of cellular processes. The equilibrium between these two groups of microRNA expressions largely determines the function of particular cell types. Our recent results with several model systems show that upon aging, there is a trend of up-regulation of microRNA expression, with concomitant inverse down-regulation of target genes. This review addresses molecular mechanisms that may provide the underlying control for this up-regulating trend, focusing on activation by various microRNAs' own promoters, through binding with pivotal transcription factors, stress response, methylation of clustered DNA domains, etc. Thus, epigenomic control of aging may be due in part to heightened promoter activation of unwanted microRNA expressions, which in turn down-regulate their target gene products. Overriding and dampening the activation of these noncoding RNAs may prove to be a new frontier for future research, to delay aging and extend healthy life-span.


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