Prion-infected cells regulate the release of exosomes with distinct ultrastructural features

FASEB J. 2012 Oct;26(10):4160-73. doi: 10.1096/fj.11-202077. Epub 2012 Jul 5.


Exosomes are small membrane-bound vesicles released from cells and found in vivo in most biological fluids. Functions reported for exosomes include cell-cell communication, roles in modulating immune responses, and roles in the transfer of pathogens such as prions. Here we investigated the molecular characteristics of the structure of exosomes that harbor prion infectivity to determine the native structure of exosomes and whether infected exosomes have a distinct structure. Cryo-electron tomography revealed the previously unidentified ultrastructural detail of exosomes with high resolution. Exosomes were found to be naturally spherical in shape and to have a diverse population that varies in size and internal structure, such as differences in the number of membrane structures. Exosomes isolated from prion-infected cells contained a significantly different population of exosomes with distinct structural features compared to control vesicles from mock-infected cells. Exosomes are highly structured vesicles that can modify their structure on altering their protein cargo. This finding provides further insight into the role that the exosomal protein cargo plays on influencing the structure of the vesicles as well as highlighting the diversity of exosomes and their relationship to biological processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Exosomes / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Prions / metabolism*
  • Prions / ultrastructure
  • Protein Folding
  • Rabbits


  • Prions