Treatment of brain injury with exosomes derived from mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) enhances neurite growth. However, the direct effect of exosomes on axonal growth and molecular mechanisms underlying exosome-enhanced neurite growth are not known. Using primary cortical neurons cultured in a microfluidic device, we found that MSC-exosomes promoted axonal growth, whereas attenuation of argonaut 2 protein, one of the primary microRNA (miRNA) machinery proteins, in MSC-exosomes abolished their effect on axonal growth. Both neuronal cell bodies and axons internalized MSC-exosomes, which was blocked by botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) that cleave proteins of the soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor (SNARE) complex. Moreover, tailored MSC-exosomes carrying elevated miR-17-92 cluster further enhanced axonal growth compared to native MSC-exosomes. Quantitative RT-PCR and Western blot analysis showed that the tailored MSC-exosomes increased levels of individual members of this cluster and activated the PTEN/mTOR signaling pathway in recipient neurons, respectively. Together, our data demonstrate that native MSC-exosomes promote axonal growth while the tailored MSC-exosomes can further boost this effect and that tailored exosomes can deliver their selective cargo miRNAs into and activate their target signals in recipient neurons. Neuronal internalization of MSC-exosomes is mediated by the SNARE complex. This study reveals molecular mechanisms that contribute to MSC-exosome-promoted axonal growth, which provides a potential therapeutic strategy to enhance axonal growth.
Keywords: Axon; Exosomes; Mesenchymal stromal cells; MicroRNA.