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Int J Mol Sci. 2013 Mar 6;14(3):5338-66. doi: 10.3390/ijms14035338.

Exosomes as intercellular signaling organelles involved in health and disease: basic science and clinical applications.

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Department of Biopathology and Biomedical and Forensic Biotechnologies, Section of Biology and Genetics, Università di Palermo, Palermo 90133, Italy.


Cell to cell communication is essential for the coordination and proper organization of different cell types in multicellular systems. Cells exchange information through a multitude of mechanisms such as secreted growth factors and chemokines, small molecules (peptides, ions, bioactive lipids and nucleotides), cell-cell contact and the secretion of extracellular matrix components. Over the last few years, however, a considerable amount of experimental evidence has demonstrated the occurrence of a sophisticated method of cell communication based on the release of specialized membranous nano-sized vesicles termed exosomes. Exosome biogenesis involves the endosomal compartment, the multivesicular bodies (MVB), which contain internal vesicles packed with an extraordinary set of molecules including enzymes, cytokines, nucleic acids and different bioactive compounds. In response to stimuli, MVB fuse with the plasma membrane and vesicles are released in the extracellular space where they can interact with neighboring cells and directly induce a signaling pathway or affect the cellular phenotype through the transfer of new receptors or even genetic material. This review will focus on exosomes as intercellular signaling organelles involved in a number of physiological as well as pathological processes and their potential use in clinical diagnostics and therapeutics.

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