Exosomes are nano-sized extracellular vesicles formed inside all the body’s cells within membrane-bound compartments and released when these compartments fuse with the plasma membrane. Their multimolecular cargos, containing mixtures of proteins, RNAs and other molecules, allow them to send complex messages to reprogramme target cells. While exosomes play important roles in healthy physiological processes such as immunity and reproduction, they also drive disease processes, such as cancer progression and metastasis.
Associate Professor Deborah Goberdhan’s group, alongside Professor Adrian Harris in the Department of Oncology as part of their ongoing work on human exosome function, has collaborated with Professor Clive Wilson’s team to undertake complementary experiments with a cell model of exosome biology in fruit flies. Previously, the collaborative team of researchers identified a specific set of exosomes, Rab11a-exosomes, made in compartments called recycling endosomes. These Rab11a-exosomes carry a different set of cargos that help cancers to grow and become resistant to commonly used treatments.
In newly published research, the team has now identified a way to selectively block the production of Rab11a-exosomes. They have also shown that these vesicles play critical roles in fly reproduction and in the signalling associated with human cancer progression, despite the fact that they only constitute a small proportion of all vesicles released by tumour cells.