About this Research Topic
Discovery of microRNAs, short, non-coding post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression, unraveled a completely new level of regulation of biological processes. Exponentially growing microRNA research provides evidence for microRNA involvement in almost every biological process, either physiological or pathological. Excitement about microRNA doesn’t stop there. Since microRNAs do not encode proteins, their genes belong to a non-coding part of a genome, which was thought, up to recently, to play no role, despite the fact that non-coding elements constitute a whopping portion of human genome (99%). Therefore, fundamental role of microRNA in biology sheds some new light on mysterious genetic “dark matter”. Moreover, microRNA-related pathways are attractive targets for new therapeutics.
Addictions are chronic disorders of the brain reward system. Addictions permeate history of humankind impacting profoundly whole societies and individuals. Alcohol is probably the oldest and most popular drug of abuse, with recent addition of narcotics and nicotine. However, the list is still growing: people can get addicted to “natural reinforcers” like sex or food (the latter being a particular problem in modern Western societies), or even activities (gambling, shopping, internet browsing etc).
Mechanisms of addictions are poorly understood, but at least some core molecular pathways seem to be common. Recently, several pioneering papers on role of microRNA in various addictions have been published. They elucidate an important role of specific microRNAs in mechanisms of action of alcohol, cocaine, morphine and nicotine. This is likely just a tip of an iceberg, and many important papers will be probably coming soon defining microRNAs specific to a particular drug, and/or showing further microRNA involvement in several aspects of addiction.
Work involving microRNA is not without challenges. One particular is an accurate determination of genes targeted by microRNA. A proper selection of target genes is of great importance as it sets further research aimed to determine ramifications of microRNA regulation by a drug of abuse, including the physiological perturbations of that regulation. Lately, several bioinformatic tools have been created to address this issue.
Here, we provide an overview on microRNA, addictions and bioinformatical target selection. We will outline possible future directions of this field, emphasizing where the research should go to quickly achieve a translational level, ultimately developing novel therapeutic strategies for these debilitating diseases.
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