Changes in the post-transcriptional control of a gene can also result in cancer. Recently, several groups of researchers have shown that specific cancers have altered expression of miRNAs. Because miRNAs bind to the 3′ UTR of RNA molecules to degrade them, overexpression of these miRNAs could be detrimental to normal cellular activity. Too many miRNAs could dramatically decrease the RNA population leading to a decrease in protein expression.
Several studies have demonstrated a change in the miRNA population in specific cancer types. It appears that the subset of miRNAs expressed in breast cancer cells is quite different from the subset expressed in lung cancer cells or even from normal breast cells. This suggests that alterations in miRNA activity can contribute to the growth of breast cancer cells. These types of studies also suggest that if some miRNAs are specifically expressed only in cancer cells, they could be potential drug targets. It would, therefore, be conceivable that new drugs that turn off miRNA expression in cancer could be an effective method to treat cancer.