Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

MicroRNAs dampen noisy expression


MicroRNAs repress gene expression by triggering mRNA degradation and inhibiting translation, but they generally have very modest effects on individual target genes. Now, Alexander van Oudenaarden and colleagues explore a possible function for microRNAs in the repression of expression noise (Science 348, 128–132, 2015). The authors used mouse embryonic stem cells to quantify the effect of endogenous microRNAs on the levels of fluorescent reporter proteins in single cells and used this system to measure noise in protein expression when they varied the numbers and strengths of microRNA-binding sites in the reporter genes. They observed that microRNAs caused a reduction in noise at low levels of reporter protein expression and an increase in noise at high levels of reporter expression. They used the data to construct a mathematical model of microRNA-regulated gene expression noise. The model and the experiments suggest that reduction of intrinsic transcriptional noise is a general property of microRNAs. The authors also show that combinatorial microRNA regulation, in which mRNAs contain many binding sites for different microRNAs, enhances noise reduction. The authors conclude that the function of microRNAs in noise reduction may explain both combinatorial microRNA targeting and preferential targeting of weakly expressed genes by microRNAs.


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Niemitz, E. MicroRNAs dampen noisy expression. Nat Genet 47, 429 (2015).

Download citation


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing