Small, noncoding microRNAs (miRNAs) regulate diverse biological functions in the liver and increasing evidence suggests that they have a role in liver pathology. This Review summarizes advances in the field of miRNAs in liver diseases, inflammation and cirrhosis. MicroRNA-122, the most abundant miRNA in hepatocytes, has well-defined roles in HCV replication, and data indicate that it also serves as a viable therapeutic target. The role of miR-122 is also emerging in other liver diseases. Ample evidence exists for the important regulatory potential of other miRNAs in conditions associated with liver inflammation related to alcohol use, the metabolic syndrome or autoimmune processes. In addition, a broad array of miRNAs have been associated with the development of liver fibrosis both in animal models and human studies. The significance of the function and cellular distribution of miRNAs in the liver and the potential of miRNAs as a means of communication between cells and organs is discussed as well as the emerging utility of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers of different forms of liver damage and as early markers of disease and progression in hepatocellular carcinoma. Importantly, miRNA modulation in the liver represents a new therapeutic approach in the treatment armamentarium of hepatologists in the future.
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