Extracellular vesicles--Their role in the packaging and spread of misfolded proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2015 Apr;40:89-96. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2015.02.007. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Many cell types, including neurons, are known to release small membranous vesicles known as exosomes. In addition to their protein content these vesicles have recently been shown to contain messenger RNA (mRNA) and micro RNA (miRNA) species. Roles for these vesicles include cell-cell signalling, removal of unwanted proteins, and transfer of pathogens (including prion-like misfolded proteins) between cells, such as infectious prions. Prions are the infectious particles that are responsible for transmissible neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) of humans or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) of cattle. Exosomes are also involved in processing the amyloid precursor protein (APP), which is associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD). As exosomes can be isolated from circulating fluids such as serum, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), they provide a potential source of biomarkers for neurological conditions. Here, we review the roles these vesicles play in neurodegenerative disease and highlight their potential in diagnosing these disorders through analysis of their RNA content.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Exosomes; Extracellular vesicles; Parkinson's disease; Prions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extracellular Vesicles / chemistry
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / analysis
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology*
  • Prions / metabolism
  • Protein Folding*


  • MicroRNAs
  • Prions