Sphingolipid-modulated exosome secretion promotes clearance of amyloid-β by microglia

J Biol Chem. 2012 Mar 30;287(14):10977-89. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.324616. Epub 2012 Feb 2.


Amyloid β-peptide (Aβ), the pathogenic agent of Alzheimer disease, is a physiological metabolite whose levels are constantly controlled in normal brain. Recent studies have demonstrated that a fraction of extracellular Aβ is associated with exosomes, small membrane vesicles of endosomal origin, although the fate of Aβ in association with exosome is largely unknown. In this study, we identified novel roles for neuron-derived exosomes acting on extracellular Aβ, i.e. exosomes drive conformational changes in Aβ to form nontoxic amyloid fibrils and promote uptake of Aβ by microglia. The Aβ internalized together with exosomes was further transported to lysosomes and degraded. We also found that blockade of phosphatidylserine on the surface of exosomes by annexin V not only prevented exosome uptake but also suppressed Aβ incorporation into microglia. In addition, we demonstrated that secretion of neuron-derived exosomes was modulated by the activities of sphingolipid-metabolizing enzymes, including neutral sphingomyelinase 2 (nSMase2) and sphingomyelin synthase 2 (SMS2). In transwell experiments, up-regulation of exosome secretion from neuronal cells by treatment with SMS2 siRNA enhanced Aβ uptake into microglial cells and significantly decreased extracellular levels of Aβ. Our findings indicate a novel mechanism responsible for clearance of Aβ through its association with exosomes. The modulation of the vesicle release and/or elimination may alter the risk of AD.

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / chemistry
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Microglia / cytology*
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Protein Multimerization
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Sphingolipids