Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are lipid bilayer-enclosed entities containing proteins and nucleic acids that mediate intercellular communication, in both physiological and pathological conditions. EVs resemble enveloped viruses in both structural and functional aspects. In full analogy with viral biogenesis, some of these vesicles are generated inside cells and, once released into the extracellular milieu, are called "exosomes". Others bud from the plasma membrane and are generally referred to as "microvesicles". In this review, we will discuss the state of the art of the current studies on the relationship between EVs and viruses and their involvement in three important viral infections caused by HIV, HCV and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) viruses. HIV and HCV are two well-known pathogens that hijack EVs content and release to create a suitable environment for viral infection. SARS viruses are a new entry in the world of EVs studies, but are equally important in this historical framework. A thorough knowledge of the involvement of the EVs in viral infections could be helpful for the development of new therapeutic strategies to counteract different pathogens.
Keywords: HCV; HIV; SARS viruses; coronaviruses; exosomes; extracellular vesicles.