Ectosomes and exosomes: shedding the confusion between extracellular vesicles

Trends Cell Biol. 2015 Jun;25(6):364-72. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2015.01.004. Epub 2015 Feb 12.


Long- and short-distance communication can take multiple forms. Among them are exosomes and ectosomes, extracellular vesicles (EVs) released from the cell to deliver signals to target cells. While most of our understanding of how these vesicles are assembled and work comes from mechanistic studies performed on exosomes, recent studies have begun to shift their focus to ectosomes. Unlike exosomes, which are released on the exocytosis of multivesicular bodies (MVBs), ectosomes are ubiquitous vesicles assembled at and released from the plasma membrane. Here we review the similarities and differences between these two classes of vesicle, suggesting that, despite their considerable differences, the functions of ectosomes may be largely analogous to those of exosomes. Both vesicles appear to be promising targets in the diagnosis and therapy of diseases, especially cancer.

Keywords: ESCRT; cancer diagnosis and therapy; cell targets; endocytosis; extracellular vesicles; membrane fusions mediated by fusogens; multivesicular bodies; vesicle assembly; vesicle pinching off and release.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / metabolism*
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Multivesicular Bodies / metabolism