MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding transcripts that regulate gene expression by promoting the degradation of transcribed messages or by inhibiting translation. Although bioinformatic approaches suggest that miRNAs may regulate the expression of a large fraction of the genome, the determination of miRNA gene targets and biological functions has been comparatively limited. Emerging studies suggest that many miRNAs may participate in human disease, including oncogenesis; but for the most part, the observations have been correlative. A recent study by Johnson and colleagues indicates that the let-7
miRNA negatively regulates the oncogenic family of Ras guanosine triphosphatases in both Caenorhabditis elegans and human tumor cell lines, suggesting that let-7
may act as a tumor suppressor. This work raises several important questions: Can other miRNAs act as tumor suppressors or oncogenes? Is miRNA deregulation a critical aspect of tumor development and maintenance? A number of recent studies have begun to address some of these functional questions, providing the field with a greater understanding of the role of miRNAs in cancer.