Differential fates of biomolecules delivered to target cells via extracellular vesicles

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Mar 24;112(12):E1433-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1418401112. Epub 2015 Feb 23.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs), specifically exosomes and microvesicles (MVs), are presumed to play key roles in cell-cell communication via transfer of biomolecules between cells. The biogenesis of these two types of EVs differs as they originate from either the endosomal (exosomes) or plasma (MVs) membranes. To elucidate the primary means through which EVs mediate intercellular communication, we characterized their ability to encapsulate and deliver different types of macromolecules from transiently transfected cells. Both EV types encapsulated reporter proteins and mRNA but only MVs transferred the reporter function to recipient cells. De novo reporter protein expression in recipient cells resulted only from plasmid DNA (pDNA) after delivery via MVs. Reporter mRNA was delivered to recipient cells by both EV types, but was rapidly degraded without being translated. MVs also mediated delivery of functional pDNA encoding Cre recombinase in vivo to tissues in transgenic Cre-lox reporter mice. Within the parameters of this study, MVs delivered functional pDNA, but not RNA, whereas exosomes from the same source did not deliver functional nucleic acids. These results have significant implications for understanding the role of EVs in cellular communication and for development of EVs as delivery tools. Moreover, studies using EVs from transiently transfected cells may be confounded by a predominance of pDNA transfer.

Keywords: apoptotic body; cell communication; exosome; extracellular vesicle; microvesicle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Exosomes / chemistry*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Integrases / metabolism
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Macromolecular Substances / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Phosphatidylserines / chemistry
  • Plasmids
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Tetraspanin 30 / chemistry


  • Lipids
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tetraspanin 30
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • DNA
  • Cre recombinase
  • Integrases