MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs of 20 to 25 nucleotides that regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally mainly by binding to a specific sequence of the 3′ end of the untranslated region (3′UTR) of target genes. Since the first report on the clinical relevance of miRNAs in cancer, many miRNAs have been demonstrated to act as oncogenes, whereas others function as tumor suppressors. Furthermore, global miRNA dysregulation, due to alterations in miRNA processing factors, has been observed in a large variety of human cancer types. As previous studies have shown, the sequential miRNA processing can be divided into three steps: processing by RNAse in the nucleus; transportation by Exportin-5 (XPO5) from the nucleus; and processing by the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) in the cytoplasm. Alteration in miRNA processing genes, by genomic mutations, aberrant expression or other means, could significantly affect cancer initiation, progression and metastasis. In this review, we focus on the biogenesis of miRNAs with emphasis on the potential of miRNA processing factors in human cancers.
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