Working model for the role of exosomes in immune responses.
After the uptake of incoming pathogens in the periphery, immature or maturing dendritic cells (green) generate peptide-MHC complexes. Some of these complexes could be secreted on exosomes, and locally sensitize other dendritic cells (blue) that have not encountered the pathogen directly. As a result of the effects of inflammation, all of these dendritic cells migrate out of the tissue towards the draining lymph nodes. Although maturing dendritic cells seem to secrete fewer exosomes than immature cells, an exchange of exosomes inside the lymph nodes between newly arrived (and not fully mature) and resident dendritic cells could take place also. Therefore, exosome production would increase the number of dendritic cells that bear the revelant peptide-MHC complexes, and thereby amplify the magnitude of immune responses. In the absence of inflammation, spontaneous migration of exosome-bearing dendritic cells could contribute to tolerance induction.
In this picture a mature dendritic cell (the cell on the right with dendrites) is moving towards a T lymphocyte (little rounded cell). The contact between a mature dendritic cell and a T lymphocytes is the initial step of an immune response.
Exosomes are minute, natural membrane vesicles secreted by various types of cells of the immune system. They are of enormous interest to oncologists, who are now using them in clinical trials as tumor-antigen bearers to trigger tumor rejection by the body.
On the basis of studies in vitro and in mice, INSERM doctors and research scientists at the Institut Curie proposed a novel mode of functioning of exosomes in the December 2002 issue of Nature Immunology. It seems that exosomes can indirectly stimulate the immune system. When they are secreted by dendritic cells (the immune system’s "sentries"), they are captured by other dendritic cells, which subsequently bring about the triggering of the immune response. It is as if one of the functions of the exosomes is to transfer their specific membrane-borne antigens to other dendritic cells, thus multiplying the number of "sentries" alerted and raising the defense potential of the immune system. If this mechanism is confirmed, it would partly explain how exosomes participate in tumor rejection in vivo.
These studies will undoubtedly lead to improvements in the use of antigen-bearing exosomes in cancer immunotherapy.
Catherine Goupillon | Institut Curie
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