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Sex differences in microRNA regulation of gene expression: no smoke, just miRs

Christopher P Morgan and Tracy L Bale*

Author Affiliations

Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3800 Spruce Street, Ste. 201E, Philadelphia, PA, 19104-6046, USA

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Biology of Sex Differences 2012, 3:22  doi:10.1186/2042-6410-3-22

Published: 26 September 2012


Males and females differ widely in morphology, physiology, and behavior leading to disparities in many health outcomes, including sex biases in the prevalence of many neurodevelopmental disorders. However, with the exception of a relatively small number of genes on the Y chromosome, males and females share a common genome. Therefore, sexual differentiation must in large part be a product of the sex biased expression of this shared genetic substrate. microRNAs (miRs) are small non-coding RNAs involved in the post-transcriptional regulation of up to 70% of protein-coding genes. The ability of miRs to regulate such a vast amount of the genome with a high degree of specificity makes them perfectly poised to play a critical role in programming of the sexually dimorphic brain. This review describes those characteristics of miRs that make them particularly amenable to this task, and examines the influences of both the sex chromosome complement as well as gonadal hormones on their regulation. Exploring miRs in the context of sex differences in disease, particularly in sex-biased neurodevelopmental disorders, may provide novel insight into the pathophysiology and potential therapeutic targets in disease treatment and prevention.

MicroRNA; Sex difference; Sex-bias; Sexual differentiation; Post-transcriptional regulation