Astrocytes use gliotransmitters to modulate neuronal function and plasticity. However, the role of small extracellular vesicles, called exosomes, in astrocyte-to-neuron signaling is mostly unknown. Exosomes originate in multivesicular bodies of parent cells and are secreted by fusion of the multivesicular body limiting membrane with the plasma membrane. Their molecular cargo, consisting of RNA species, proteins, and lipids, is in part cell type and cell state specific. Among the RNA species transported by exosomes, microRNAs (miRNAs) are able to modify gene expression in recipient cells. Several miRNAs present in astrocytes are regulated under pathological conditions, and this may have far-reaching consequences if they are loaded in exosomes. We propose that astrocyte-derived miRNA-loaded exosomes, such as miR-26a, are dysregulated in several central nervous system diseases; thus potentially controlling neuronal morphology and synaptic transmission through validated and predicted targets. Unraveling the contribution of this new signaling mechanism to the maintenance and plasticity of neuronal networks will impact our understanding on the physiology and pathophysiology of the central nervous system.
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- extracellular vesicles