Extracellular vesicles and infectious diseases: new complexity to an old story

J Clin Invest. 2016 Apr 1;126(4):1181-9. doi: 10.1172/JCI81132. Epub 2016 Apr 1.


Exosomes and other extracellular microvesicles (ExMVs) have important functions in intercellular communication and regulation. During the course of infection, these vesicles can convey pathogen molecules that serve as antigens or agonists of innate immune receptors to induce host defense and immunity, or that serve as regulators of host defense and mediators of immune evasion. These molecules may include proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates. Pathogen molecules may be disseminated by incorporation into vesicles that are created and shed by host cells, or they may be incorporated into vesicles shed from microbial cells. Involvement of ExMVs in the induction of immunity and host defense is widespread among many pathogens, whereas their involvement in immune evasion mechanisms is prominent among pathogens that establish chronic infection and is found in some that cause acute infection. Because of their immunogenicity and enrichment of pathogen molecules, exosomes may also have potential in vaccine preparations and as diagnostic markers. Additionally, the ability of exosomes to deliver molecules to recipient cells raises the possibility of their use for drug/therapy delivery. Thus, ExMVs play a major role in the pathogenesis of infection and provide exciting potential for the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / immunology*
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / pathology
  • Exosomes / immunology*
  • Exosomes / pathology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion*
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Infections / immunology*
  • Infections / microbiology
  • Infections / pathology