The role of extracellular vesicle microRNAs in cancer biology

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microRNAs (miRNAs) constitute a large family of small, approximately 20-22 nucleotide non-coding RNAs that regulate the expression of target genes, mainly at the post-transcriptional level. Multiple studies report that miRNAs are involved in homeostatic maintenance and that aberrant expression of miRNAs is often observed in various types of diseases, including cancer. In cancer biology, miRNAs exert functional roles in tumor initiation, drug resistance, and metastasis. miRNAs are also secreted through small vesicles called exosomes, which are endosome-derived vesicles derived from various cell types including immune and tumor cells. In addition to cellular miRNAs (ce-miRNAs), secreted miRNAs (se-miRNAs) play important roles in cancer development and metastasis. Therefore, se-miRNAs in body fluids have been investigated as a promising biomarkers and therapeutic targets for cancer treatment. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge of miRNA functions in cancer development and discuss the potential clinical applications of se-miRNAs, e.g. as diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets.

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