Exosomes and Ectosomes in Intercellular Communication

J Meldolesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Exosomes and ectosomes, two distinct types of extracellular vesicles generated by all types of cell, play key roles in intercellular communication. The formation of these vesicles depends on local microdomains assembled in endocytic membranes for exosomes and in the plasma membrane for ectosomes. These microdomains govern the accumulation of proteins and various types of RNA associated with their cytosolic surface, followed by membrane budding inward for exosome precursors and outward for ectosomes. A fraction of endocytic cisternae filled with vesicles — multivesicular bodies — are later destined to undergo regulated exocytosis, leading to the extracellular release of exosomes. In contrast, the regulated release of ectosomes follows promptly after their generation. These two types of vesicle differ in size — 50–150 nm for exosomes and 100–500 nm for ectosomes — and in the mechanisms of assembly, composition, and regulation of release, albeit only partially. For both exosomes and ectosome s, the surface and luminal cargoes are heterogeneous when comparing vesicles released by different cell types or by single cells in different functional states. Upon release, the two types of vesicle navigate through extracellular fluid for varying times and distances. Subsequently, they interact with recognized target cells and undergo fusion with endocytic or plasma membranes, followed by integration of vesicle membranes into their fusion membranes and discharge of luminal cargoes into the cytosol, resulting in changes to cellular physiology. After fusion, exosome/ectosome components can be reassembled in new vesicles that are then recycled to other cells, activating effector networks. Extracellular vesicles also play critical roles in brain and heart diseases and in cancer, and are useful as biomarkers and in the development of innovative therapeutic approaches. In this review, Meldolesi focuses on the recent progress made by studies of the biology and physiology of extracellular vesicles and discusses the role of these vesicles in disease and their potential therapeutic applications. © 2018 Elsevier Ltd
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R435-R444
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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