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Role of islet microRNAs in diabetes: which model for which question?
MicroRNAs are important regulators of gene expression. The vast majority of the cells in our body rely on hundreds of these tiny non-coding RNA molecules to precisely adjust their protein repertoire and faithfully accomplish their tasks. Indeed, alterations in the microRNA profile can lead to cellular dysfunction that favours the appearance of several diseases. A specific set of microRNAs plays a crucial role in pancreatic beta cell differentiation and is essential for the fine-tuning of insulin secretion and for compensatory beta cell mass expansion in response to insulin resistance. Recently, several independent studies reported alterations in microRNA levels in the islets of animal models of diabetes and in islets isolated from diabetic patients. Surprisingly, many of the changes in microRNA expression observed in animal models of diabetes were not detected in the islets of diabetic patients and vice versa. These findings are unlikely to merely reflect species differences because microRNAs are highly conserved in mammals. These puzzling results are most probably explained by fundamental differences in the experimental approaches which selectively highlight the microRNAs directly contributing to diabetes development, the microRNAs predisposing individuals to the disease or the microRNAs displaying expression changes subsequent to the development of diabetes. In this review we will highlight the suitability of the different models for addressing each of these questions and propose future strategies that should allow us to obtain a better understanding of the contribution of microRNAs to the development of diabetes mellitus in humans.
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