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Advances in Virology
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 767694, 12 pages
Review Article

Extracellular Vesicles and Their Convergence with Viral Pathways

1Departments of Neurology and Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Neuroscience Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02129, USA
2Neuro-oncology Research Group, Department of Neurosurgery, VU University Medical Center, De Boelelaan 1117, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3Dardinger Laboratory for Neuro-oncology and Neurosciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
4Department of Pathology, Cancer Center Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Received 21 February 2012; Accepted 6 June 2012

Academic Editor: Julia G. Prado

Copyright © 2012 Thomas Wurdinger et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Extracellular vesicles (microvesicles), such as exosomes and shed microvesicles, contain a variety of molecules including proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Microvesicles appear mostly to originate from multivesicular bodies or to bud from the plasma membrane. Here, we review the convergence of microvesicle biogenesis and aspects of viral assembly and release pathways. Herpesviruses and retroviruses, amongst others, recruit several elements from the microvesicle biogenesis pathways for functional virus release. In addition, noninfectious pleiotropic virus-like vesicles can be released, containing viral and cellular components. We highlight the heterogeneity of microvesicle function during viral infection, addressing microvesicles that can either block or enhance infection, or cause immune dysregulation through bystander action in the immune system. Finally, endogenous retrovirus and retrotransposon elements deposited in our genomes millions of years ago can be released from cells within microvesicles, suggestive of a viral origin of the microvesicle system or perhaps of an evolutionary conserved system of virus-vesicle codependence. More research is needed to further elucidate the complex function of the various microvesicles produced during viral infection, possibly revealing new therapeutic intervention strategies.