Competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs) are transcripts that can regulate each other at post-transcription level by competing for shared miRNAs. CeRNA networks link the function of protein-coding mRNAs with that of non-coding RNAs such as microRNA, long non-coding RNA, pseudogenic RNA and circular RNA. Given that any transcripts harbouring miRNA response element can theoretically function as ceRNAs, they may represent a widespread form of post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression in both physiology and pathology. CeRNA activity is influenced by multiple factors such as the abundance and subcellular localisation of ceRNA components, binding affinity of miRNAs to their sponges, RNA editing, RNA secondary structures and RNA-binding proteins. Aberrations in these factors may deregulate ceRNA networks and thus lead to human diseases including cancer. In this review, we introduce the mechanisms and molecular bases of ceRNA networks, discuss their roles in the pathogenesis of cancer as well as methods of predicting and validating ceRNA interplay. At last, we discuss the limitations of current ceRNA theory, propose possible directions and envision the possibilities of ceRNAs as diagnostic biomarkers or therapeutic targets.
- Clinical genetics
- Molecular genetics
- Cell biology
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