microRNAs and ceRNAs: RNA networks in pathogenesis of cancer
microRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of endogenous, single-stranded non-coding RNAs of 20- 23 nucleotides in length, functioning as negative regulators of gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. The dysregulation of miRNAs has been demonstrated to play critical roles in tumorigenesis, either through inhibiting tumor suppressor genes or activating oncogenes inappropriately. Besides their promising clinical applications in cancer diagnosis and treatment, recent studies have uncovered that miRNAs could act as a regulatory language, through which messenger RNAs, transcribed pseudogenes, and long noncoding RNAs crosstalk with each other and form a novel regulatory network. RNA transcripts involved in this network have been termed as competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs), since they influence each other’s level by competing for the same pool of miRNAs through miRNA response elements (MREs) on their target transcripts. The discovery of miRNA-ceRNA network not only provides the possibility of an additional level of post-transcriptional regulation, but also dictates a reassessment of the existing regulatory pathways involved in cancer initiation and progression.