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Crop Biotech Update

microRNAs: Key to Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases

May 11, 2012

A research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust shows a new group of molecules which control some of the fundamental processes behind memory function. This discovery may be the key to the development of new therapies as treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

The research was led by academics from the University of Bristol's Schools of Clinical Sciences, Biochemistry and Physiology and Pharmacology. It reveals a new group of molecules known as mirror-microRNAs.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs), often residing within the ‘junk DNA', are non-coding genes that regulate the levels and functions of multiple target proteins which are responsible for controlling brain cellular processes. According to the study's findings, it is possible to produce two miRNA genes with different functions from the same piece or sequence of DNA. One of the miRNA genes is produced from the top strand while the other one is from the bottom complementary ‘mirror' strand.

Moreover, the study has shown that two fully processed miRNA genes expressed in the brain, with different and previously unknown functions, can be extracted from a single sequence of human DNA.

According to Professor of Molecular Neuroscience in the University of Bristol's Schools of Clinical Sciences James Uney, the findings are important because they show how small changes in the miRNA genes can have a dramatic effect on brain function. He added that it may influence our memory function, or the likelihood of acquiring neurodegenerative diseases.

Read more about this study on mirror-microRNAs at http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/health/2012/120427-pr-doubling-information-from-double-helix.aspx. Access the paper at the Journal of Biological Chemistry on their website: http://www.jbc.org/content/early/2012/03/05/jbc.M111.326041.abstract.