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Great excitement has surrounded the finding that small RNAs are stable in various biofluids and carry specific signatures reflecting physiological and pathological states. In this chapter, we briefly describe the impact of this revolutionary discovery and introduce different subclasses of circulating microRNAs based on their mode of transport. Subsequently, we review the current state-of-the art knowledge on microRNA selection for export, secretion and possible uptake mechanisms and their potential function in circulation. Furthermore, we give an overview on the possible use of cell-free microRNAs as biomarkers and as therapeutic targets. Overall, we aim to highlight open questions and address some of the pitfalls of current extracellular RNA research.

Original publication




Journal article


Exp Suppl

Publication Date





31 - 53


Biomarker, Extracellular microRNA, Extracellular vesicles, Intercellular communication, miRNA-based therapeutics