Current Pharmaceutical Design vol:18 issue:13 pages:1718-29
miRNAs are small non-coding RNAs that regulate post-transcriptionally gene expression by degradation or translational repression of specific target mRNAs. In the 90s, lin-4 and let-7 were firstly identified as small regulatory RNAs able to control C. elegans larval development, by specifically targeting the 3'UTR of lin-14 and lin-28, respectively. These findings have introduced a novel and wide layer of complexity in the regulation of mRNA and protein expression. Lin-4 and let-7 are now considered the founding members of an abundant class of small fine-tuned RNAs, called microRNAs (miRNAs), in viruses, green algae, plants, flies, worms, and in mammals. In humans, the estimated number of genes encoding for miRNAs is as high as 1000 and around 30% of the protein-coding genes are post-transcriptionally controlled by miRNAs. This article reviews the role of miRNAs in regulating several biological responses in muscle cells, ranging from proliferation, differentiation and adaptation to stress cues. Cardiac and skeletal muscles are powerful examples to summarize the activity of miRNAs in cell fate specification, lineage differentiation and metabolic pathways. Indeed, specific miRNAs control the number of proliferating muscle progenitors to guarantee the proper formation of the heart and muscle fibers and to assure the self-renewal of muscle progenitors during adult tissue regeneration. On the other side, several other miRNAs promote the differentiation of muscle progenitors into skeletal myofibers or into cardiomyocytes, where metabolic activity, survival and remodeling process in response to stress, injury and chronic diseases are also fine-tuned by miRNAs.