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MicroRNAs Could Be The Key To Tissue Regeneration

Posted on 7 May 2016

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3 microRNAS have been linked to tail regeneration in the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis

A sizeable number of creatures are capable of regenerating limbs and organs, but humans unfortunately drew the short straw when it comes regeneration. So how do they do it? New research suggests it may be through the action of microRNAs (miRNAS), which are small strands of RNA used to regulate gene expression. 

miRNAs conduct the activity of many genes at once

In animals, our genome encodes for hundreds of different miRNAs, which have a particular homology for certain RNA sequences translated from genes. Homology means they have a matching or similar sequence, allowing them to bind together. This binding isn’t perfect in many cases, but it means that each miRNA can potentially influence a large group of genes – controlling gene expression. They act as an extra level of regulation, conducting and repressing certain sequences. 

“Since microRNAs are able to control a large number of genes at the same time, like an orchestra conductor leading the musicians, we hypothesized that they had to play a role in regeneration. Our earlier work found that hundreds of genes are involved in regeneration, and we are very excited to study these three new microRNAs”

Learning from lizards

Following 6 years of study using next generation genomic analysis, new research has revealed that 3 specific miRNAs are tied to the regeneration process in the green anole lizard; flicking on and off expression of hundreds of genes. 

This might not seem particularly applicable to humans, but it’s a step in the right direction. By learning how other organisms manage to heal themselves, it’s likely our own biology harbours similar, obscured pathways. After all, we’re able to grow our entire body from scratch at birth, so the capacity is there, we just have to work out which signals are involved. This is a sizeable task, but expanding on this research could one day enable future miRNA treatments to severely injured patients. 

“It is the translational nature of this work – how it could eventually be applied to people – that led to my interest in this study. For example, we currently don’t have the ability to regrow knee cartilage, which would really help someone like my grandmother. This work highlights the importance of tiny RNA molecules in the tissue regeneration process, and showed for the first time an asymmetric microRNA distribution in different portions of the regenerating lizard tails. It seems like microRNAs may play an active role in this process, and are potentially able to shape the regenerating lizard tail like playdough”

Read more at MedicalXpress

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