Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common musculoskeletal disorder, is complex, multifaceted, and characterized by degradation of articular cartilage and alterations in other joint tissues. Although some pathogenic pathways have been characterized, current knowledge is incomplete and effective approaches to the prevention or treatment of OA are lacking. Understanding novel molecular mechanisms that are involved in the maintenance and destruction of articular cartilage, including extracellular regulators and intracellular signalling mechanisms in joint cells that control cartilage homeostasis, has the potential to identify new therapeutic targets in OA. MicroRNAs control tissue development and homeostasis by fine-tuning gene expression, with expression patterns specific to tissues and developmental stages, and are increasingly implicated in the pathogenesis of complex diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disorders. The emergent roles of microRNAs in cartilage homeostasis and OA pathogenesis are summarized in this Review, alongside potential clinical applications.