MicroRNA (miRNA) alterations in response to changes in an extracellular microenvironment have been observed and considered as one of the major mechanisms for epigenetic modifications of the cell. While enormous efforts have been made in the understanding of the role of miRNAs in regulating cellular responses to the microenvironment, the mechanistic insight into how extracellular signals can be transduced into miRNA alterations in cells is still lacking. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that ion channels/transporters, which are known to conduct or transport ions across the cell membrane, also exhibit changes in levels of expression and activities in response to changes of extracellular microenvironment. More importantly, alterations in expression and function of ion channels/transporters have been shown to result in changes in miRNAs that are known to change in response to alteration of the microenvironment. In this review, we aim to summarize the recent data demonstrating the ability of ion channels/transporters to transduce extracellular signals into miRNA changes and propose a potential link between cells and their microenvironment through ion channels/transporters. At the same time, we hope to provide new insights into epigenetic regulatory mechanisms underlying a number of physiological and pathological processes, including embryo development and cancer metastasis.
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