MicroRNAs involved in regulating epithelial-mesenchymal transition and cancer stem cells as molecular targets for cancer therapeutics

H Xia, K M Hui
Cancer Gene Therapy 2012, 19 (11): 723-30
One of the major challenges in cancer gene therapy is the identification of functionally relevant tumor-specific genes as the therapeutic targets. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small, 22-25 nucleotides, endogenously expressed noncoding RNA. miRNAs are important genetic regulators: one miRNA can possibly target multiple genes and they can function as tumor promoters (oncogenic miRNAs, oncomirs) or tumor suppressors (anti-oncomirs). Therefore, the identification of misregulated miRNAs in cellular signaling pathways related to oncogenesis can have profound implications for cancer therapy. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) converts epithelial cells into mesenchymal cells, a normal embryological process that frequently get activated during cancer invasion and metastasis. Recent evidence also supports the presence of a small subset of self-renewing, stem-like cells within the tumor mass that possess the capacity to seed new tumors and they have been termed 'cancer stem cells (CSC)'. Conceivably, these CSCs could provide a resource for cells that cause therapy resistance. Although the cell origin of CSCs remains to be fully elucidated, a growing body of evidence has demonstrated that the biology of EMT and CSCs is tightly linked with the sequences and compositions of miRNA molecules. Therefore, targeting miRNAs involved in EMT and CSCs regulation can provide novel miRNA-based therapeutic strategies in oncology.

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