Emerging roles of microRNAs in the control of embryonic stem cells and the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells

Sunil K Mallanna, Angie Rizzino
Developmental Biology 2010 August 1, 344 (1): 16-25
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as critical regulators of gene expression. These small, non-coding RNAs are believed to regulate more than a third of all protein coding genes, and they have been implicated in the control of virtually all biological processes, including the biology of stem cells. The essential roles of miRNAs in the control of pluripotent stem cells were clearly established by the finding that embryonic stem (ES) cells lacking proteins required for miRNA biogenesis exhibit defects in proliferation and differentiation. Subsequently, the function of numerous miRNAs has been shown to control the fate of ES cells and to directly influence critical gene regulatory networks controlled by pluripotency factors Sox2, Oct4, and Nanog. Moreover, a growing list of tissue-specific miRNAs, which are silenced or not processed fully in ES cells, has been found to promote differentiation upon their expression and proper processing. The importance of miRNAs for ES cells is further indicated by the exciting discovery that specific miRNA mimics or miRNA inhibitors promote the reprogramming of somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Although some progress has been made during the past two years in our understanding of the contribution of specific miRNAs during reprogramming, further progress is needed since it is highly likely that miRNAs play even wider roles in the generation of iPS cells than currently appreciated. This review examines recent developments related to the roles of miRNAs in the biology of pluripotent stem cells. In addition, we posit that more than a dozen additional miRNAs are excellent candidates for influencing the generation of iPS cells as well as for providing new insights into the process of reprogramming.

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