Exosomes and microvesicles are extracellular nanovesicles released by most but not all cells. They are specifically equipped to mediate intercellular communication via the transfer of genetic information, including the transfer of both coding and non-coding RNAs, to recipient cells. As a result, both exosomes and microvesicles play a fundamental biological role in the regulation of normal physiological as well as aberrant pathological processes, via altered gene regulatory networks and/or via epigenetic programming. For example, microvesicle-mediated genetic transfer can regulate the maintenance of stem cell plasticity and induce beneficial cell phenotype modulation. Alternatively, such vesicles play a role in tumor pathogenesis and the spread of neurodegenerative diseases via the transfer of specific microRNAs and pathogenic proteins. Given this natural property for genetic information transfer, the possibility of exploiting these vesicles for therapeutic purposes is now being investigated. Stem cell-derived microvesicles appear to be naturally equipped to mediate tissue regeneration under certain conditions, while recent evidence suggests that exosomes might be harnessed for the targeted delivery of human genetic therapies via the introduction of exogenous genetic cargoes such as siRNA. Thus, extracellular vesicles are emerging as potent genetic information transfer agents underpinning a range of biological processes and with therapeutic potential.
- Lee Y, El Andaloussi S, Wood MJ. (2012) Exosomes and microvesicles: extracellular vesicles for genetic information transfer and gene therapy. Hum Mol Gene 21(R1), R125-34. [abstract]