Bystander effects can be induced through cellular communication between irradiated cells and non-irradiated cells. The signals that mediate this cellular communication, such as cytokines, reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide and even microRNAs, can be transferred between cells via gap junctions or extracellular medium. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have previously reported that miR-21, a well described DDR (DNA damage response) microRNA, is involved in radiation-induced bystander effects through a medium-mediated way. However, the mechanisms of the microRNA transfer have not been elucidated in details.
In the present study, it was found that exosomes isolated from irradiated conditioned medium could induce bystander effects. Furthermore, the researchers demonstrated plenty of evidences that miR-21, which is up-regulated as a result of mimic transfection or irradiation, can be transferred from donor or irradiated cells into extracellular medium and subsequently get access to the recipient or bystander cells through exosomes to induce bystander effects. Inhibiting the miR-21 expression in advance can offset the bystander effects to some extent. From all of these results, it can be concluded that the exosome-mediated microRNA transfer plays an important role in the radiation-induced bystander effects. These findings provide new insights into the functions of microRNAs and the cellular communication between the directly irradiated cells and the non-irradiated cells.