Normal and malignant cells shed from their surface membranes as well as secrete from the endosomal membrane compartment circular membrane fragments called microvesicles (MV). MV that are released from viable cells are usually smaller in size compared to the apoptotic bodies derived from damaged cells and unlike them do not contain fragmented DNA. Growing experimental evidence indicates that MV are an underappreciated component of the cell environment and play an important pleiotropic role in many biological processes. Generally, MV are enriched in various bioactive molecules and may (i) directly stimulate cells as a kind of 'signaling complex', (ii) transfer membrane receptors, proteins, mRNA and organelles (e.g., mitochondria) between cells and finally (iii) deliver infectious agents into cells (e.g., human immuno deficiency virus, prions). In this review, we discuss the pleiotropic effects of MV that are important for communication between cells, as well as the role of MV in carcinogenesis, coagulation, immune responses and modulation of susceptibility/infectability of cells to retroviruses or prions.