Extracellular vesicles - propagators of neuropathology and sources of potential biomarkers and therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

J Cell Sci. 2020 Dec 11;133(23):jcs243139. doi: 10.1242/jcs.243139.


Neurodegenerative diseases are characterised by the irreversible degeneration of neurons in the central or peripheral nervous systems. These include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD) and prion diseases. Small extracellular vesicles (sEVs), a type of EV involved in cellular communication, have been well documented as propagating neurodegenerative diseases. These sEVs carry cargo, such as proteins and RNA, to recipient cells but are also capable of promoting protein misfolding, thus actively contributing to the progression of these diseases. sEV secretion is also a compensatory process for lysosomal dysfunction in the affected cells, despite inadvertently propagating disease to recipient cells. Despite this, sEV miRNAs have biomarker potential for the early diagnosis of these diseases, while stem cell-derived sEVs and those generated through exogenous assistance demonstrate the greatest therapeutic potential. This Review will highlight novel advancements in the involvement of sEVs as propagators of neuropathology, biomarkers and potential therapeutics in neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Autophagy; Exosomes; Extracellular vesicles; Lysosomal dysfunction; Neurogenerative disease; Parkinson's disease; Prion disease; miRNA biomarkers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease*
  • Biomarkers
  • Extracellular Vesicles*
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / therapy
  • Neurons


  • Biomarkers