Transfer and functional consequences of dietary microRNAs in vertebrates: Concepts in search of corroboration

Kenneth W. Witwer, Kendal D. Hirschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


If validated, diet-derived foreign microRNA absorption and function in consuming vertebrates would drastically alter our understanding of nutrition and ecology. RNA interference (RNAi) mechanisms of Caenorhabditis elegans are enhanced by uptake of environmental RNA and amplification and systemic distribution of RNAi effectors. Therapeutic exploitation of RNAi in treating human disease is difficult because these accessory processes are absent or diminished in most animals. A recent report challenged multiple paradigms, suggesting that ingested microRNAs (miRNAs) are transferred to blood, accumulate in tissues, and exert canonical regulation of endogenous transcripts. Independent replication of these findings has been elusive, and multiple disconfirmatory findings have been published. In the face of mounting negative results, any additional positive reports must provide the proverbial "extraordinary proof" to support such claims. In this article, we review the evidence for and against a significant role for dietary miRNAs in influencing gene expression, and make recommendations for future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)394-406
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Cholesterol
  • Diet
  • Epigenetics
  • Exosome
  • MicroRNA
  • Nutrition
  • RNAi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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