microRNA in neurodegenerative diseases – biomarkers and targets for therapy?


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)

Parkinson’s disease: miR-1826, miR-450b-3p, miR-626, miR-505 (source), miR-133b, miR-34b/34c (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!

Ali Bierly

Ali Bierly, PhD is a Global Market Manager in Translational Sciences at QIAGEN, and has written on a number of scientific topics in the biotech industry as the author of QIAGEN's Reviews Online. She received her PhD from Cornell University in 2009, studying the immune response to a protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Ali has a keen interest in the emerging importance of microRNA and other circulating nucleic acids as biomarkers for disease.

Feng Ru TANG

Dear Dr. Ali Bierly,

It will be appreciated if you could send me some information about miRNA biomarkers for radiation exposure.

Thank you

Dr. Feng Ru TANG
National University of Singapore

Ali Bierly

Hi Dr. Tang, thanks for your interest! miRNA biomarkers for radiation exposure is an important topic – there are several studies showing altered miRNA levels in serum in response to radiation. For example, Jacob et al. (2013, PLoS One 8, e57603.) showed decreases in serum miR-150 in response to as little as 1 Gy, whereas miR-200b and miR-762 increased in serum in response to radiation. A translational study from Translational Research by Halimi et al. (2014, Transl. Res. 163, 578.) looked at 40 breast cancer patients before and after radiotherapy to demonstrate that miR-21 serum levels rise significantly with exposure to ionizing radiation. Templin et al. were also able to show that blood miRNA signatures can distinguish not only radiation doses, but also radiation type (2012, Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 88, 531).

The results so far are promising, but of course there is more work to be done. Let me know if you’re looking for a way to study this question – we have the most up-to-date miRNome profiling system available, and I’d be happy to send you some information about it. Thanks again for reading!

Feng Ru TANG

Dear Dr. Ali Bierly,

Thanks for the information provided. I am sorry I just saw it. You may send you reply to my e-mail address.

Yes, I am interested in radiation-induced miRNA biomarkers in the blood and brain tissue.

Do let me know how can we work together to make some progress


Feng Ru

Philip W.Mshelia

Hi Ali, I need your advice on the methodology I will use to develop this topic- Role of micro RNAs in equine infectious anemia and its effect on the immune competence of Horses

Christine Davis

Hi Philip,

This is something we could develop with you using miRNA-sequencing. We will follow-up with you offline!


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