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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Context-dependent functions of specific microRNAs in neuronal development

Fen-Biao Gao

Author Affiliations

Departments of Neurology and Neurobiology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01605, USA

Neural Development 2010, 5:25  doi:10.1186/1749-8104-5-25

Published: 1 October 2010

Abstract

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that regulate multiple developmental processes at the post-transcriptional level. Recent rapid progresses have demonstrated critical roles for a number of miRNAs in neuronal development and function. In particular, miR-9 and miR-124 are specifically expressed in the mammalian nervous system, and their respective nucleotide sequences are 100% identical among many species. Yet, their expression patterns and mRNA targets are less conserved throughout evolution. As a consequence, these miRNAs exhibit diverse context-dependent functions in different aspects of neuronal development, ranging from early neurogenesis and neuronal differentiation to dendritic morphogenesis and synaptic plasticity. Some other neuronal miRNAs also exhibit context-dependent functions in development. Thus, post-transcriptional regulation of spatial and temporal expression levels of protein-coding genes by miRNAs contributes uniquely to the proper development and evolution of the complex nervous system.