Emerging role of extracellular vesicles in musculoskeletal diseases

Mol Aspects Med. 2018 Apr:60:123-128. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2017.09.006. Epub 2017 Oct 10.


Research into the biology of extracellular vesicles (EVs), including exosomes and microvesicles, has expanded significantly with advances in EV isolation techniques, a better understanding of the surface markers that characterize exosomes and microvesicles, and greater information derived from -omics approaches on the proteins, lipids, mRNAs, and microRNAs (miRNAs) transported by EVs. We have recently discovered a role for exosome-derived miRNAs in age-related bone loss and osteoarthritis, two conditions that impose a significant public health burden on the aging global population. Previous work has also revealed multiple roles for EVs and their miRNAs in muscle regeneration and congenital myopathies. Thus, EVs appear to be involved in a number of degenerative conditions that impact the musculoskeletal system, indicating that the musculoskeletal system is an excellent model for investigating the role of EVs in tissue maintenance and repair. This review highlights the role of EVs in bone, skeletal muscle, and joint health, including both normal tissue metabolism as well as tissue injury repair and regeneration. A consistent theme that emerges from study of musculoskeletal EVs is that various miRNAs appear to mediate a number of key pathological processes. These findings point to a potential therapeutic opportunity to target EV-derived miRNAs as a strategy for improving musculoskeletal function.

Keywords: Exosomes; Muscular dystrophy; Osteoarthritis; Osteoporosis; microRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Joint Diseases / etiology
  • Joint Diseases / metabolism
  • Joint Diseases / pathology
  • Muscle Cells / cytology
  • Muscle Cells / metabolism
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Osteoporosis / metabolism
  • Regeneration / genetics


  • Biomarkers