Immunomodulatory roles and novel applications of bacterial membrane vesicles

Mol Immunol. 2021 Jun;134:72-85. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2021.02.027. Epub 2021 Mar 13.


Bacteria release extracellular vesicles (EVs) known as bacterial membrane vesicles (BMVs) during their normal growth. Gram-negative bacteria produce BMVs termed outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) that are composed of a range of biological cargo and facilitate numerous bacterial functions, including promoting pathogenesis and mediating disease in the host. By contrast, less is understood about BMVs produced by Gram-positive bacteria, which are referred to as membrane vesicles (MVs), however their contribution to mediating bacterial pathogenesis has recently become evident. In this review, we summarise the mechanisms whereby BMVs released by Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria are produced, in addition to discussing their key functions in promoting bacterial survival, mediating pathogenesis and modulating host immune responses. Furthermore, we discuss the mechanisms whereby BMVs produced by both commensal and pathogenic organisms can enter host cells and interact with innate immune receptors, in addition to how they modulate host innate and adaptive immunity to promote immunotolerance or drive the onset and progression of disease. Finally, we highlight current and emerging applications of BMVs in vaccine design, biotechnology and cancer therapeutics.

Keywords: Bacterial membrane vesicles (BMVs); Immunity; Membrane vesicles (MVs); Microbiota; Outer membrane vesicles (OMVs); Pathogenesis; Therapeutic applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / immunology*
  • Bacterial Structures / immunology*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / immunology*
  • Humans