In the last years it has become increasingly clear that the mammalian transcriptome is highly complex and includes a large number of small non-coding RNAs (sncRNAs) and long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). Here we review the biogenesis pathways of the three classes of sncRNAs, namely short interfering RNAs (siRNAs), microRNAs (miRNAs) and PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs). These ncRNAs have been extensively studied and are involved in pathways leading to specific gene silencing and the protection of genomes against virus and transposons, for example. Also, lncRNAs have emerged as pivotal molecules for the transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression which is supported by their tissue-specific expression patterns, subcellular distribution, and developmental regulation. Therefore, we also focus our attention on their role in differentiation and development. SncRNAs and lncRNAs play critical roles in defining DNA methylation patterns, as well as chromatin remodeling thus having a substantial effect in epigenetics. The identification of some overlaps in their biogenesis pathways
and functional roles raises the hypothesis that these molecules play concerted functions in vivo
, creating complex regulatory networks where cooperation with regulatory proteins is necessary. We also highlighted the implications of biogenesis and gene expression deregulation of sncRNAs and lncRNAs in human diseases like cancer.