The role of extracellular vesicles in neurodegenerative diseases

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2017 Feb 19;483(4):1178-1186. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2016.09.090. Epub 2016 Sep 19.


Extracellular vesicles, including exosomes, are small membranous vesicles released from many biotypes, contributing to the disease progression and spreading. These extracellular vesicles provide an important mode of cell-to-cell communication by delivering proteins, lipids and RNA to target cells. Exosomes are found associated with neurodegenerative diseases, which are characterised by progressive degeneration of neurons and often associated with misfolded protein. The common diseases include Parkinson's disease (PD), Alzheimer's diseases (AD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and the prion diseases. Of all neurodegenerative diseases, prion diseases are classified as the distinctive group owing to its transmissible and infectious nature of misfolded prion protein. The infectious prion particles have been demonstrated to be present in exosomes to spread prion infectivity within cells. Similarly, misfolded proteins involved in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyloid-β and tau in AD, α-synuclein in PD, and superoxide dismutase 1 in ALS have been demonstrated to exploit exosomes for induced spreading of misfolded proteins in a prion-like mechanism. Furthermore, RNA molecules can be taken up by the recipient cells as cargo in exosomes. These RNAs can module the expression of the target genes by repressing or inhibiting protein translation. Here we review the role of exosomes in prion diseases and other common neurodegenerative diseases, and discuss the potential of these vesicles for disease pathogenesis.

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

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Prion Diseases / metabolism