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MicroRNAs as regulators, biomarkers and therapeutic targets in liver diseases
  1. Xiaolin Wang,
  2. Yong He,
  3. Bryan Mackowiak,
  4. Bin Gao
  1. Laboratory of Liver Diseases, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Bin Gao, Laboratory of Liver Diseases, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-000, USA; bgao{at}


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding RNAs that post-transcriptionally regulate gene expression by binding to specific mRNA targets and promoting their degradation and/or translational inhibition. miRNAs regulate both physiological and pathological liver functions. Altered expression of miRNAs is associated with liver metabolism dysregulation, liver injury, liver fibrosis and tumour development, making miRNAs attractive therapeutic strategies for the diagnosis and treatment of liver diseases. Here, we review recent advances regarding the regulation and function of miRNAs in liver diseases with a major focus on miRNAs that are specifically expressed or enriched in hepatocytes (miR-122, miR-194/192), neutrophils (miR-223), hepatic stellate cells (miR-29), immune cells (miR-155) and in circulation (miR-21). The functions and target genes of these miRNAs are emphasised in alcohol-associated liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, drug-induced liver injury, viral hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma, as well liver fibrosis and liver failure. We touch on the roles of miRNAs in intercellular communication between hepatocytes and other types of cells via extracellular vesicles in the pathogenesis of liver diseases. We provide perspective on the application of miRNAs as biomarkers for early diagnosis, prognosis and assessment of liver diseases and discuss the challenges in miRNA-based therapy for liver diseases. Further investigation of miRNAs in the liver will help us better understand the pathogeneses of liver diseases and may identify biomarkers and therapeutic targets for liver diseases in the future.

  • cancer
  • fibrosis
  • fatty liver
  • hepatitis

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  • Contributors XW searched the data for the article and wrote the manuscript. YH and BM made substantial contributions to the discussion of content and edited the manuscript. BG supervised the whole project and edited the manuscript.

  • Funding This work described from BG lab in this review article was supported by the intramural program of NIAAA, NIH (BG). XW is a visiting scholar from Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, 200025, China.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.