Extracellular vesicles – an emerging tool for wild immunology

Introduction to Immunology and Wild Animals

The immune system plays a vital role in protecting organisms from diseases and maintaining overall health. Most of what we know about the immune system comes from studies conducted on laboratory animals. While these studies have provided significant insights, there’s a growing understanding that wild animals, with their diverse genetics, longer lifespans, and varied environmental exposures, can offer valuable information for immunology research.

Graphical Abstract

Challenges in Studying Wild Animal Immunology

Research on the immune systems of wild animals faces several obstacles:

  • Sample Collection and Storage: Gathering and preserving samples from wildlife is logistically challenging.
  • Lack of Species-Specific Reagents: Commercially available reagents often don’t cater to the specific needs of different wild species.

These challenges have slowed the progress of immunological research in wild animals, limiting our understanding of how their immune systems function in natural settings.

The Role of Extracellular Vesicles (EVs)

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are tiny particles released by cells that are present in all body fluids and tissues, across organisms from bacteria to mammals. Studies in humans and laboratory animals have shown that EVs play significant roles in various immune processes. Recent research suggests that EVs may have similar functions in wild species as well.

Benefits of EVs in Wild Immunology Research

Given their involvement in immune processes, EVs can become a valuable tool for studying immunology in wild animals. They can help overcome some of the challenges faced in this field by providing:

  • Non-Invasive Sample Collection: EVs can be collected from fluids like blood or saliva, making it easier to gather samples from wild animals without harming them.
  • Cross-Species Insights: The study of EVs can provide insights into immune processes that are conserved across different species, including humans, laboratory animals, and wildlife.

Current Understanding of EV Biology

Research on EVs has shown their importance across a range of organisms. Here are some key points:

  • Diverse Functions: EVs are involved in cell communication, transporting molecules like proteins and RNA between cells.
  • Immune Processes: In both humans and lab animals, EVs play roles in regulating immune responses, fighting infections, and modulating inflammation.

Insights from Human and Laboratory Animal Studies

Research in humans and laboratory animals has provided valuable information on how EVs function in the immune system. These studies have highlighted:

  • Immune Modulation: EVs can carry immune signals between cells, influencing how the body responds to infections.
  • Disease Indicators: Changes in EVs can indicate the presence of diseases, making them useful for diagnostics.

Emerging Evidence from Wild Species

Although research on EVs in wild species is still in its early stages, initial findings are promising. Studies have shown that:

  • Similar Functions: EVs in wild animals perform functions similar to those in humans and lab animals, such as transporting immune signals.
  • Adaptive Responses: EVs may help wild animals adapt their immune responses to different environmental challenges.

Research Themes and Practical Considerations

To maximize the potential of EVs in wild immunology, researchers should focus on:

  • Understanding EV Production: Studying how different wild species produce and release EVs can provide insights into their immune systems.
  • Standardizing Collection Methods: Developing standardized methods for collecting and analyzing EVs from wild animals will improve the reliability of research findings.
  • Cross-Species Comparisons: Comparing EVs across species can help identify common immune mechanisms and unique adaptations in wildlife.

Conclusion

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) offer a promising new avenue for immunology research in wild animals. By leveraging the potential of EVs, scientists can overcome some of the current challenges in this field and gain a deeper understanding of how the immune systems of wild animals function in their natural environments. This knowledge can enhance our overall understanding of immunology, benefiting both wildlife conservation and human health research.

Espejo C, Ezenwa VO. (2024) Extracellular vesicles: an emerging tool for wild immunology. Disc Immun [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]

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