He, X., Eberhart, J.K., and Postlethwait, J.H. (2009) MicroRNAs and micromanaging the skeleton in disease, development and evolution. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. 13(4):606-618.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, non-protein-encoding RNAs that effect post-transcriptional gene regulation by targeting messenger RNAs. miRNAs are associated with specific human diseases and help regulate development. Here we review recent advances in understanding the roles of miRNAs in skeletal malformations, including cleft palate, and in the evolution of skeletal morphologies. We propose the hypothesis that evolutionary variation in miRNA expression patterns or structural variation in miRNA binding sites in messenger RNAs can help explain the evolution of craniofacial variation among species, the development of human craniofacial disease and physiological changes leading to osteopenia that increases with ageing.