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Gene November 1, 2008; 423 (2): 108-15.
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Faulty old ideas about translational regulation paved the way for current confusion about how microRNAs function.

Despite a recent surge of reports about how microRNAs might regulate translation, the question has not been answered. The proposed mechanisms contradict one another, and none is supported by strong evidence. This review explains some deficiencies in the experiments with microRNAs. Some of the problems are traceable to bad habits carried over from older studies of translational regulation, here illustrated by discussing two models involving mRNA binding proteins. One widely-accepted model, called into doubt by recent findings, is the maskin hypothesis for translational repression of cyclin B1 in Xenopus oocytes. The second dubious model postulates repression of translation of ceruloplasmin by mRNA binding proteins. A big fault in the latter case is reconstructing the imagined mechanism before looking carefully at the real thing--a criticism that applies also to studies with microRNAs. Experiments with microRNAs often employ internal ribosome entry sequences (IRESs) as tools, necessitating brief discussion of that topic. A sensitive new assay reveals that many putative IRESs promote expression of downstream cistrons via splicing rather than internal initiation of translation. Recent claims about the biological importance of IRES-binding proteins--including suggestions that these proteins might serve as targets for cancer therapy--are not supported by any meaningful evidence. The bottom line is that older studies of mRNA binding proteins and putative IRESs have created a confusing picture of translational regulation which is not helpful when trying to understand how microRNAs might work. The obvious biological importance of microRNAs makes it essential to understand how they do what they do. Fresh ways of thinking and looking are needed.

PubMed ID: 18692553
Article link: Gene

Species referenced: Xenopus
Genes referenced: birc2 ccnb1 hif1a hspa5 myc tacc3 vegfa xiap