Extracellular vesicles and intercellular communication within the nervous system

J Clin Invest. 2016 Apr 1;126(4):1198-207. doi: 10.1172/JCI81134. Epub 2016 Apr 1.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs, including exosomes) are implicated in many aspects of nervous system development and function, including regulation of synaptic communication, synaptic strength, and nerve regeneration. They mediate the transfer of packets of information in the form of nonsecreted proteins and DNA/RNA protected within a membrane compartment. EVs are essential for the packaging and transport of many cell-fate proteins during development as well as many neurotoxic misfolded proteins during pathogenesis. This form of communication provides another dimension of cellular crosstalk, with the ability to assemble a "kit" of directional instructions made up of different molecular entities and address it to specific recipient cells. This multidimensional form of communication has special significance in the nervous system. How EVs help to orchestrate the wiring of the brain while allowing for plasticity associated with learning and memory and contribute to regeneration and degeneration are all under investigation. Because they carry specific disease-related RNAs and proteins, practical applications of EVs include potential uses as biomarkers and therapeutics. This Review describes our current understanding of EVs and serves as a springboard for future advances, which may reveal new important mechanisms by which EVs in coordinate brain and body function and dysfunction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / metabolism*
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Nervous System / metabolism*
  • RNA / metabolism


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • RNA
  • DNA