Are exosomes the new “junk DNA”?

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In “Exosome Explosion” (The Scientist , July 1, 2011), Clotilde Théry tells us “These small membrane vesicles do much more than clean up a cell’s trash—they also carry signals to distant parts of the body, where they can impact multiple dimensions of cellular life”:

Secreted vesicles known as exosomes were first discovered nearly 30 years ago. But, considered little more than garbage cans whose job was to discard unwanted cellular components, these small vesicles remained little studied for the next decade. Over the past few years, however, evidence has begun to accumulate that these dumpsters also act as messengers, actually conveying information to distant tissues. Exosomes contain cell-specific payloads of proteins, lipids, and genetic material that are transported to other cells, where they alter function and physiology.

Two years ago, I began receiving daily e-mails requesting reprints of my articles on exosomes, details on experimental protocols, and advice on the purification and characterization of the vesicles.

Having studied exosomes for more than 10 years, I thought I knew all the other researchers working on the subject, but the requests were from groups I hadn’t heard from before. The flood of inquiries made me realize that the field had been growing.

Here are some papers she’s been involved with. Here’s a much earlier paper (2000) on their role.

One Reply to “Are exosomes the new “junk DNA”?

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Are the vesicles unique to mammals?

    Exosomes are 30-90 nm vesicles secreted by a wide range of mammalian cell types.

    The exosome complex (or PM/Scl complex, often just called the exosome) is a multi-protein complex capable of degrading various types of RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules. Exosome complexes are found in both eukaryotic cells and archaea, while in bacteria a simpler complex called the degradosome carries out similar functions.

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