Challenges and directions in studying cell–cell communication by extracellular vesicles

Extracellular Vesicles

Niel, Guillaume van, David R. F. Carter, Aled Clayton, Daniel W. Lambert, Graça Raposo, and Pieter Vader. 2022. “Challenges and Directions in Studying Cell–Cell Communication by Extracellular Vesicles.” Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, March.

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are increasingly recognized as important mediators of intercellular communication. They have important roles in numerous physiological and pathological processes, and show considerable promise as novel biomarkers of disease, as therapeutic agents and as drug delivery vehicles. Intriguingly, however, understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern the many observed functions of EVs remains far from comprehensive, at least partly due to technical challenges in working with these small messengers. Here, we highlight areas of consensus as well as contentious issues in our understanding of the intracellular and intercellular journey of EVs: from biogenesis, release and dynamics in the extracellular space, to interaction with and uptake by recipient cells. We define knowledge gaps, identify key questions and challenges, and make recommendations on how to address these.

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Cigarette smoke (CS) represents one of the most relevant environmental risk factors for several chronic pathologies. Tissue damage caused by CS exposure is mediated, at least in part, by oxidative stress induced by its toxic and pro-oxidant components. Evidence demonstrates that extracellular vesicles (EVs) released by various cell types exposed to CS extract (CSE) are characterized by altered biochemical cargo and gained pathological properties. In the present study, we evaluated the content of oxidized proteins and phospholipid fatty acid profiles of EVs released by human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells treated with CSE. This specific molecular characterization has hitherto not been performed. After confirmation that CSE reduces viability of BEAS-2B cells and elevates intracellular ROS levels, in a dose-dependent manner, we demonstrated that 24 h exposure at 1% CSE, a concentration that only slight modifies cell viability but increases ROS levels, was able to increase carbonylated protein levels in cells and released EVs. The release of oxidatively modified proteins via EVs might represent a mechanism used by cells to remove toxic proteins in order to avoid their intracellular overloading. Moreover, 1% CSE induced only few changes in the fatty acid asset in BEAS-2B cell membrane phospholipids, whereas several rearrangements were observed in EVs released by CSE-treated cells. The impact of changes in acyl chain composition of CSE-EVs accounted for the increased saturation levels of phospholipids, a membrane parameter that might influence EV stability, uptake and, at least in part, EV-mediated biological effects. The present in vitro study adds new information concerning the biochemical composition of CSE-related EVs, useful to predict their biological effects on target cells. Furthermore, the information regarding the presence of oxidized proteins and the specific membrane features of CSE-related EVs can be useful to define the utilization of circulating EVs as marker for diagnosing of CS-induced lung damage and/or CS-related diseases.

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