In the last few decades, it has been established that astrocytes play key roles in the regulation of neuronal morphology. However, the contribution of astrocyte-derived small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) to morphological differentiation of neurons has only recently been addressed. Here, we showed that cultured astrocytes expressing a GFP-tagged version of the stress-regulated astrocytic enzyme Aldolase C (Aldo C-GFP) release small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) that are transferred into cultured hippocampal neurons. Surprisingly, Aldo C-GFP-containing sEVs (Aldo C-GFP sEVs) displayed an exacerbated capacity to reduce the dendritic complexity in developing hippocampal neurons compared to sEVs derived from control (i.e., GFP-expressing) astrocytes. Using bioinformatics and biochemical tools, we found that the total content of overexpressed Aldo C-GFP correlates with an increased content of endogenous miRNA-26a-5p in both total astrocyte homogenates and sEVs. Notably, neurons magnetofected with a nucleotide sequence that mimics endogenous miRNA-26a-5p (mimic 26a-5p) not only decreased the levels of neuronal proteins associated to morphogenesis regulation, but also reproduced morphological changes induced by Aldo-C-GFP sEVs. Furthermore, neurons magnetofected with a sequence targeting miRNA-26a-5p (antago 26a-5p) were largely resistant to Aldo C-GFP sEVs. Our results support a novel and complex level of astrocyte-to-neuron communication mediated by astrocyte-derived sEVs and the activity of their miRNA content.
Keywords: astrocytes; dendritic complexity; exosomes; hippocampal neurons; microRNAs.