A potential role of extracellular vesicles in the pathophysiology of drug addiction

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are small vesicles secreted by cells and are known to carry sub-cellular components including microRNA, proteins, and lipids. Due to their ability to transport cargo between cells, EVs have been identified as important regulators of various pathophysiological conditions and can therefore influence treatment outcomes. In particular, the significance of microRNAs in EV-mediated cell-cell communication is well-documented. While the influence of EVs and the cargo delivered by EVs has been extensively reviewed in other neurological disorders, the available literature on the potential role of EVs in the pathophysiology of drug addiction has not been reviewed. Here, researchers from the University of Findlay discuss the known effects of commonly abused drugs (ethanol, nicotine, opiates, cocaine, and cannabinoids) on EV secretion. In addition, the potential role of drugs of abuse in affecting the delivery of EV-packaged microRNAs, and the subsequent impact on neuronal health and continued drug dependence, is discussed.

A schematic representation of the possible role of extracellular vesicles
in the pathophysiology of drug addiction


Given the significance of EVs in mediating cell-cell communication, chronic drug abuse has the potential to impact the crosstalk between brain cells and other brain/peripheral cells. The functional changes may be a result of enhanced delivery of extracellular vesicular cargo, in particular, the packaged microRNAs (miRNAs). As demonstrated by several studies, miRNAs may govern the pathophysiology of drug addiction by affecting gene expression in both central and peripheral cells in response to drugs of abuse

Rao PSS, O’Connell K, Finnerty TK. (2018) Potential Role of Extracellular Vesicles in the Pathophysiology of Drug Addiction. Mol Neurobiol [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]

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