Over the last 15 years, investigators have identified small noncoding RNAs as regulators of gene expression. One type of noncoding RNAs are termed microRNAs (miRNAs). miRNAs are evolutionary conserved, approximately 22-nucleotide single-stranded RNAs that target genes by inducing mRNA degradation or by inhibiting translation. miRNAs are implicated in many critical cellular processes, including apoptosis, proliferation, and differentiation. Furthermore, it is estimated that miRNAs may be responsible for regulating the expression of nearly one-third of the human genome. Despite the identification of greater than 500 mature miRNAs, very little is known about their biological functions and functional targets. In the last 5 years, researchers have increasingly focused on the functional relevance and role that miRNAs play in the pathogenesis of human disease. miRNAs are known to be important in solid organ and hematological malignancies, heart disease, as potential modulators of the immune response, and organ development. It is anticipated that miRNA analysis will emerge as an important complement to proteomic and genomic studies to further our understanding of disease pathogenesis. Despite the application of genomics and proteomics to the study of human lung disease, few studies have examined miRNA expression. This perspective is not meant to be an exhaustive review of miRNA biology but will provide an overview of both miRNA biogenesis and our current understanding of the role of miRNAs in lung disease as well as a perspective on the importance of integrating this analysis as a tool for identifying and understanding the biological pathways in lung-disease pathogenesis.
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