Many key biological processes are impacted by miRNAs, including cell growth and proliferation, tissue differentiation, embryonic development, and apoptosis. Mutation, dysfunction, and/or dysregulation of miRNA may lead to diseases like coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, hepatitis, and obesity, to name a few.
Many companies are excited about the potential of miRNAs and are developing novel methods to profile these small RNA molecules and understand which cellular pathways they affect. Later this month, the researchers profiled in this article will be presenting their latest findings at CHI’s “microRNA in Human Disease and Development,” to be held in Boston.
Recent statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics estimate that 34% of U.S. adults are obese. Understanding the role of miRNAs in adipose biology may lead to novel RNA-based therapies for obesity.
Harvey Lodish, Ph.D., professor of biology and bioengineering at MIT, along with graduate student HuangMing Xie, has been profiling and validating the expression of more than 370 miRNAs during adipogenesis of various fat cells. “I’ve been studying fat cells for the past 25 years in various contexts,” states Dr. Lodish. “The hope for this project was that we could find microRNAs that were induced during adipose development that could play some important roles in the biology of cells.”
A number of miRNAs have been discovered that are induced during fat development: two miRNAs upregulated actually sped up the rate at which fat cells are formed by a day, which is substantial. The researchers also compared fat tissue from obese animals versus normal animals.
“What we found very striking is that the same miRNAs that were normally turned on during fat cell differentiation were at a lower level than fat cells from obese animals versus the normal animals.” He concludes that these miRNAs are playing key roles in regulating fat-cell formation. “We’re getting lineage-specific miRNAs that affect the differentiation pathway, making this the first time it’s been done in fat cells.”