An unsolved mystery: the target-recognizing RNA species of microRNA genes.

Research paper by Chang-Zheng CZ Chen

Indexed on: 21 May '13Published on: 21 May '13Published in: Biochimie


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are an abundant class of endogenous ∼21-nucleotide (nt) RNAs. These small RNAs are produced from long primary miRNA transcripts - pri-miRNAs - through sequential endonucleolytic maturation steps that yield precursor miRNA (pre-miRNA) intermediates and then the mature miRNAs. The mature miRNAs are loaded into the RNA-induced silencing complexes (RISC), and guide RISC to target mRNAs for cleavage and/or translational repression. This paradigm, which represents one of major discoveries of modern molecular biology, is built on the assumption that mature miRNAs are the only species produced from miRNA genes that recognize targets. This assumption has guided the miRNA field for more than a decade and has led to our current understanding of the mechanisms of target recognition and repression by miRNAs. Although progress has been made, fundamental questions remain unanswered with regard to the principles of target recognition and mechanisms of repression. Here I raise questions about the assumption that mature miRNAs are the only target-recognizing species produced from miRNA genes and discuss the consequences of working under an incomplete or incorrect assumption. Moreover, I present evolution-based and experimental evidence that support the roles of pri-/pre-miRNAs in target recognition and repression. Finally, I propose a conceptual framework that integrates the functions of pri-/pre-miRNAs and mature miRNAs in target recognition and repression. The integrated framework opens experimental enquiry and permits interpretation of fundamental problems that have so far been precluded.