MicroRNA Biomarkers of Toxicity in Biological Matrices

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Biomarker measurements that reliably correlate with tissue injury and that can be measured within accessible biofluids offer benefits in terms of cost, time, and convenience when assessing chemical and drug-induced toxicity in model systems or human cohorts. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged in recent years as a promising new class of biomarker for monitoring toxicity. Recent enthusiasm for miRNA biomarker research has been fueled by evidence that certain miRNAs are cell-type specific and are released during injury, thus raising the possibility of using biofluid-based miRNAs as a “liquid biopsy” that may be obtained by sampling extracellular fluids. As biomarkers, miRNAs demonstrate improved stability as compared with many protein markers and sequences are largely conserved across species, simplifying analytical techniques. Recent efforts have sought to identify miRNAs that are released into accessible biofluids following xenobiotic exposure, using compounds that target specific organs. Whereas still early in the discovery phase, miRNA biomarkers will have an increasingly important role in the assessment of adverse effects of both environmental chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs. Here, we review the current findings of biofluid-based miRNAs, as well as highlight technical challenges in assessing toxicologic pathology using these biomarkers.

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