Secreted microRNAs: a new form of intercellular communication

Trends Cell Biol. 2012 Mar;22(3):125-32. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2011.12.001. Epub 2012 Jan 17.


In multicellular organisms, cell-to-cell communication is of particular importance for the proper development and function of the organism as a whole. Intensive studies over the past three years suggesting horizontal transfer of secreted microRNAs (miRNAs) between cells point to a potentially novel role for these molecules in intercellular communication. Using a microvesicle-dependent, or RNA-binding protein-associated, active trafficking system, secreted miRNAs can be delivered into recipient cells where they function as endogenous miRNAs, simultaneously regulating multiple target genes or signaling events. In this Opinion, we summarize recent literature on the biogenesis and uptake of secreted miRNAs, propose a possible working model for how secreted miRNAs might be sorted and transferred between cells and speculate on their biological significance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • RNA Stability


  • MicroRNAs