Like overpacked suitcases unloaded from the underbelly of a jet, molecular satchels called exosomes are continuously deployed from all cells in the body—many brimming with an assortment of contents that another cell may unpack and use. By sending off these biological parcels, cells communicate with each other via shared proteins and genetic material. Once simply thought to be microscopic sacks of cellular “garbage,” exosomes are now understood to hold immense importance for our health. An outflowing of research in recent years has even shown they can transport molecules that are linked to the spread of cancer and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Yet, until recently, their role in brain development has remained a mystery. In new research published online on July 22, 2019 in PNAS, Hollis Cline (photo), PhD, and her colleagues at Scripps Research begin to close that knowledge gap by showing that exosomes are not only integral to the development of neurons and neural circuits, but they can restore health to brain cells affected by developmental disease. The open-access PNAS article is titled “Exosomes Regulate Neurogenesis and Circuit Assembly.” “During different stages of brain development, signaling between cells is absolutely essential,” says Dr. Cline, Co-Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Scripps Research and Director of the Dorris Neuroscience Center at Scripps. “We found that exosomes are one of the ways cells communicate these signals.” Our bodies use spherical containers called “vesicles” to traffic different materials within and among cells. Exosomes are a type of vesicle tasked specifically with transporting various biological cargo—lipids, proteins, RNA,—from one cell to another.
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