Microglia are resident immune cells of the brain that play important roles in mediating inflammatory responses in several neurological diseases via direct and indirect mechanisms. One indirect mechanism may involve extracellular vesicle (EV) release, so that the molecular cargo transported by microglia-derived EVs can have functional effects by facilitating intercellular communication. The molecular composition of microglia-derived EVs, and how microglial activation states impacts EV composition and EV-mediated effects in neuroinflammation, remain poorly understood.
Emory University researchers hypothesize that microglia-derived EVs have unique molecular profiles that are determined by microglial activation state. Using size-exclusion chromatography to purify EVs from BV2 microglia, combined with proteomic (label-free quantitative mass spectrometry or LFQ-MS) and transcriptomic (mRNA and non-coding RNA seq) methods, the researchers obtained comprehensive molecular profiles of microglia-derived EVs. LFQ-MS identified several classic EV proteins (tetraspanins, ESCRT machinery, and heat shock proteins), in addition to over 200 proteins not previously reported in the literature. Unique mRNA and microRNA signatures of microglia-derived EVs were also identified. After treating BV2 microglia with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), interleukin-10, or transforming growth factor beta, to mimic pro-inflammatory, anti-inflammatory, or homeostatic states, respectively, LFQ-MS and RNA seq revealed novel state-specific proteomic and transcriptomic signatures of microglia-derived EVs. Particularly, LPS treatment had the most profound impact on proteomic and transcriptomic compositions of microglia-derived EVs. Furthermore, the researchers found that EVs derived from LPS-activated microglia were able to induce pro-inflammatory transcriptomic changes in resting responder microglia, confirming the ability of microglia-derived EVs to relay functionally-relevant inflammatory signals. These comprehensive microglia-EV molecular datasets represent important resources for the neuroscience and omics communities, and provide novel insights into the role of microglia-derived EVs in neuroinflammation.