Functions of Exosomes and Microbial Extracellular Vesicles in Allergy and Contact and Delayed-Type Hypersensitivity

Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2016;171(1):1-26. doi: 10.1159/000449249. Epub 2016 Nov 8.


Extracellular vesicles, such as exosomes, are newly recognized intercellular conveyors of functional molecular mechanisms. Notably, they transfer RNAs and proteins between different cells that can then participate in the complex pathogenesis of allergic and related hypersensitivity responses and disease mechanisms, as described herein. This review highlights this important new appreciation of the in vivo participation of such extracellular vesicles in the interactions between allergy-mediating cells. We take into account paracrine epigenetic exchanges mediated by surrounding stromal cells and the endocrine receipt of exosomes from distant cells via the circulation. Exosomes are natural ancient nanoparticles of life. They are made by all cells and in some form by all species down to fungi and bacteria, and are present in all fluids. Besides a new focus on their role in the transmission of genetic regulation, exosome transfer of allergens was recently shown to induce allergic inflammation. Importantly, regulatory and tolerogenic exosomes can potently inhibit allergy and hypersensitivity responses, usually acting nonspecifically, but can also proceed in an antigen-specific manner due to the coating of the exosome surface with antibodies. Deep analysis of processes mediated by exosomes should result in the development of early diagnostic biomarkers, as well as allergen-specific, preventive and therapeutic strategies. These will likely significantly diminish the risks of current allergen-specific parenteral desensitization procedures, and of the use of systemic immunosuppressive drugs. Since extracellular vesicles are physiological, they can be fashioned for the specific delivery of therapeutic molecular instructions through easily tolerated, noninvasive routes, such as oral ingestion, nasal administration, and perhaps even inhalation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / metabolism
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Bacteria / immunology
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Communication
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions* / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Hypersensitivity / metabolism*
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed / etiology*
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed / metabolism*
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology
  • Mast Cells / immunology
  • Mast Cells / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / immunology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / metabolism


  • Allergens
  • Biomarkers
  • MicroRNAs