The nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, controls our ability to act and respond to our environment by sensing stimuli and transmitting signals throughout the body. Diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis are the result of a dysfunctional nervous system. We know some of the factors that influence these diseases, but many still remain a mystery.
microRNAs are small, noncoding RNAs that control gene expression. Since their discovery, scientists have shown that microRNAs are involved in the normal functioning of many processes in the body, and their levels can change during disease. Because microRNAs can be stable in the blood, either by binding to certain proteins or being carried by exosomes, this means that they may be useful as noninvasive biomarkers – markers for disease that can be easily detected by a simple test of biofluids like blood or urine.
Recently, scientists have found many miRNAs with varied levels in neurodegenerative diseases. Some even form molecular “signatures” in early stages, which scientists believe may someday translate into useful diagnostic signatures for clinical use. The following are some of the microRNAs that studies have suggested may be involved in disease or serve as useful biomarkers:
Alzheimer’s disease: let7f-5p, miR-1285-5p, miR-107, miR-103a-3p, miR-26b-5p, miR-532-5p, miR-151a-5p, miR-161, let-7d-3p, miR-112, miR-5010-3p (source)
Multiple sclerosis: miR-650, miR-155, miR-326, miR-142-3p, miR-146a, miR-146b, miR-34a, mi$-21, miR-23a, miR-100a (source)
What’s next for microRNA in neurodegenerative disease research? Developing reliable microRNA signatures will be a high priority for detecting disease or monitoring its progression, and figuring out the function of altered miRNAs may lead to more effective treatment options. Where do you see miRNA and neurodegeneration research heading in the next few years? Let us know in the comments!