Cells Interact with Each Other Using Tiny Bubbles Referred to as Extracellular Vesicles

Cellular communication has always been a fascinating area of discourse among the scientific community for centuries. Scientists find it utterly puzzling that cells within an organism can critically interact with each other in a coordinated manner that affords uniformity of function. Cell communication commonly referred to as cell signaling helps cells assume their biologically determined roles. Several methods over the years have been postulated to mediate these signaling including paracrine, endocrine, and autocrine mechanisms.

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Caenorhabditis Elegans

Caenorhabditis Elegans. Credit Zeynep F. Altun

Cellular debris and cell signaling

A study by Rutgers’ researchers published in the journal, Current Biology, seems to have unraveled the mystery behind cell communication. Their study shows that cells interact with each other using tiny bubbles referred to as extracellular vesicles (EVs) which were previously known to be cellular debris. They are believed to carry useful or toxic materials that may be implicated in disease causation or the promotion of health.

Extracellular vesicles can be seen in human body fluids like blood and urine and can be utilized in fluid biopsies where they serve as biomarkers for certain diseases. This is because different kinds of extracellular vesicles are packaged by unhealthy and healthy cells.

Rutgers’ research and findings

To carry out this research, the team used a very simple animal, Caenorhabditiselegans, a free-living nematode that inhabits the soil in temperate environment1s. The experimental process involved the use of sophisticated biochemical, genetic, molecular, and computational instruments that aided the demystification of the functions of the extracellular vesicles within the body.

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Guided by the hypothesized importance of the Extracellular vesicles in the nervous system, Nikonorova, a postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the research and his team concentrated on the EVs produced by cilia, an antenna that mediates intercellular interaction. With inputs from Maureen Barr, they developed an identification model that identified 2,888 EVs.

On studying the EVs produced by nerve cells, they found out that they carry RNA-binding proteins and RNA itself which had great implications for the effectiveness of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Following this, they hypothesized that these neurons store RNA and RNA-binding proteins in the extracellular vesicles, and they, in turn, mediate intercellular communication.

Generally, the entire process was hinged on an ingenious method that labeled, tracked, and profiled the extracellular vesicles by utilizing cargo that has been genetically modified and fluorescent-tagged. This enabled them to conduct the study on a large scale and profile the proteins involved.

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After the study, they were able to isolate four different cilia EVs and also notice that the organism produced a mixture of these from different tissue cells.


The discovery of extracellular vesicles has shone more light on the basis for intercellular communication. This understanding has promising potential for its application in the understanding and treatment of certain human diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. Although the role of EVs in intercellular communication has been established, there is very little knowledge on origins, packaging, and how these EVs mediate their function hence, a need for more research in that regard.


Isolation, profiling, and tracking of extracellular vesicle cargo in Caenorhabditis elegans



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