2008 Distinguished Scientist Lecture—MicroRNA Control of Heart Disease: From New Biology to New Therapeutics
MicroRNAs act as negative regulators of gene expression by inhibiting the translation or promoting the degradation of target mRNAs. Because individual microRNAs often regulate the expression of multiple target genes with related functions, modulating the expression of a single microRNA can, in principle, influence an entire gene network and thereby modify complex disease phenotypes. We have identified signature expression patterns of microRNAs associated with pathological cardiac hypertrophy, heart failure, and myocardial infarction in humans and mouse models of heart disease. Gain- and loss-of-function studies in mice have revealed profound and unexpected functions for these microRNAs in numerous facets of cardiac biology, including the control of myocyte growth, contractility, energy metabolism, fibrosis, and angiogenesis, providing glimpses of new regulatory mechanisms and potential therapeutic targets for heart disease. Especially intriguing is the discovery of a network of muscle-specific microRNAs embedded within myosin heavy chain genes, which control myosin expression and the response of the heart to stress and thyroid hormone signaling. Recent studies have demonstrated that disease-inducing cardiac microRNAs can be persistently silenced in vivo through systemic delivery of anti-miRs, allowing for the direct therapeutic modulation of disease mechanisms. The myriad roles of microRNAs in the control of cardiac function and dysfunction and therapeutic opportunities for manipulating microRNA biology in the setting of heart disease will be discussed.