Targeting translational control as a novel way to treat inflammatory disease: the emerging role of MicroRNAs

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Chronic inflammatory diseases (e.g. asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are leading causes of morbidity and mortality world-wide and effective treatments are limited. These disorders can often be attributed to abnormal immune responses to environmental stimuli and infections. Mechanisms leading to inflammation are complex, resulting from interactions of structural cells and activation of both the adaptive and innate arms of the immune system. The activation of structural and immune cells involves both temporary and permanent changes in gene expression in these cells, which underpin chronic inflammation and tissue dysfunction. miRNAs are small non-coding RNAs increasingly being recognized to play important roles in the post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression in mammalian cells by regulating translation. Individual miRNAs can exert their effects by directly inhibiting the translation or stability of multiple mRNAs simultaneously. Thus, the expression or blockade of function of a single miRNA (miR) can result in pronounced alterations in protein expression within a given cell. Dysregulation of miRNA expression may subsequently alter cellular function, and in certain situations predispose to disease. Our current understanding of the role of miRNA in the regulation of inflammatory disease (e.g. allergic diseases) remains limited. In this review, we provide an overview of the current understanding of miRNA biogenesis and function, the roles miRNA play in the regulation of immune cell function and their potential contribution to inflammatory diseases. We also highlight strategies to alter miRNA function for experimental or therapeutic gain, and discuss the potential utility and limitations of targeting these molecules as anti-inflammatory strategies.

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