The last decade has witnessed a revolution in our appreciation of the extensive regulatory gene expression networks modulated by small untranslated RNAs. microRNAs (miRNAs), ∼22 nt RNAs that bind imperfectly to partially homologous sites on target mRNAs to regulate transcript expression, are now known to influence a broad range of biological processes germane to development, homeostatic regulation and disease. It has been proposed that miRNAs ensure biological robustness, and aging has been described as a progressive loss of system and cellular robustness, but relatively little work to date has addressed roles of miRNAs in longevity and healthspan (the period of youthful vigor and disease resistance that precedes debilitating decline in basic functions). The C. elegans model is highly suitable for testing hypotheses regarding miRNA impact on aging biology: the lifespan of the animal is approximately three weeks, there exist a wealth of genetic mutations that alter lifespan through characterized pathways, biomarkers that report strong healthspan have been defined, and many miRNA genes have been identified, expression-profiled, and knocked out. 50/114 C. elegans miRNAs change in abundance during adult life, suggesting significant potential to modulate healthspan and lifespan. Indeed, miRNA lin-4 has been elegantly shown to influence lifespan and healthspan via its lin-14 mRNA target and the insulin signaling pathway. 27 of the C. elegans age-regulated miRNAs have sequence similarity with both fly and human miRNAs. We review current understanding of a field poised to reveal major insights into potentially conserved miRNA-regulated networks that modulate aging.
Keywords: miRNA, Caenorhabditis elegans, sarcopenia, lipofuscin, healthspan, longevity
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