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Front. Physiol. | doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00227

Emerging roles of miRNAs in brain development and perinatal brain injury

  • 1Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology (MMP), University of Auckland, New Zealand

In human beings, the immature brain is highly plastic and depending on the stage of gestation is particularly vulnerable to a range of insults that if sufficiently severe, can result in long-term motor, cognitive and behavioural impairment. Findings from animal and clinical studies show that changes in the preterm brain following injury are quite distinctive from that of the term brain, in that lesions formed are confined to white matter fibre tracts within the periventricular region and surrounding white matter, and are invariably accompanied by some form of cortical or subcortical grey matter abnormality.
Existing therapeutic options for treatment of preterm infants have proved inadequate, partly owing to an incomplete understanding of underlying post-injury cellular and molecular changes that lead to poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. This has reinforced the need to improve our understanding of brain plasticity, explore novel solutions for the development of protective strategies, and identify biomarkers.
Compelling evidence exists supporting the involvement of microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of small non-coding RNAs, as important post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression with functions including cell fate specification and plasticity of synaptic connections. Importantly, miRNAs are differentially expressed following brain injury, and can be packaged within exosomes/extracellular vesicles, which play a pivotal role in assuring their intercellular communication and passage across the blood-brain barrier. Indeed, an increasing number of investigations have examined the roles of specific miRNAs following injury and regeneration and it is apparent that this field of research could potentially identify protective therapeutic strategies to ameliorate perinatal brain injury.
In this review, we discuss the most recent findings of some important miRNAs in relation to the development of the brain, their dysregulation, functions and regulatory roles following brain injury, and discuss how these can be targeted either as biomarkers of injury or neuroprotective agents.

Keywords: perinatal, development, Brain Injury, miRNAs, biomarkers

Received: 19 Aug 2018; Accepted: 21 Feb 2019.

Edited by:

Carina Mallard, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Reviewed by:

Angela L. Cumberland, RMIT University, Australia
Amin Mottahedin, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2019 Cho, Xu, Blenkiron and Fraser. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Mhoyra Fraser, Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, m.fraser@auckland.ac.nz