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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Aug 16;113(33):9155-61. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1605146113. Epub 2016 Jul 18.

Extracellular vesicles and viruses: Are they close relatives?

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Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Faculty Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, 3584 CM Utrecht, The Netherlands;
Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD 21201;
Section of Intercellular Interactions, Eunice Kennedy-Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) released by various cells are small phospholipid membrane-enclosed entities that can carry miRNA. They are now central to research in many fields of biology because they seem to constitute a new system of cell-cell communication. Physical and chemical characteristics of many EVs, as well as their biogenesis pathways, resemble those of retroviruses. Moreover, EVs generated by virus-infected cells can incorporate viral proteins and fragments of viral RNA, being thus indistinguishable from defective (noninfectious) retroviruses. EVs, depending on the proteins and genetic material incorporated in them, play a significant role in viral infection, both facilitating and suppressing it. Deciphering the mechanisms of EV-cell interactions may facilitate the design of EVs that inhibit viral infection and can be used as vehicles for targeted drug delivery.


defective viruses; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; infection; viruses

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