Mesenchymal stem cells are the most widely used cell phenotype for therapeutic applications, the main reasons being their well-established abilities to promote regeneration of injured tissues and to modulate immune responses. Efficacy was reported in the treatment of several animal models of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and, in clinical settings, for the management of disorders such as GVHD, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. The effects of mesenchymal stem cells are believed to be largely mediated by paracrine signals, and several secreted molecules have been identified as contributors to the net biological effect. Recently, it has been recognized that bioactive molecules can be shuttled from cell to cell packed in microvesicles, tiny portions of cytoplasm surrounded by a membrane. Coding and non-coding RNAs are also carried in such microvesicles, transferring relevant biological activity to target cells. Several reports indicate that the regenerative effect of mesenchymal stem cells can be reproduced by microvesicles isolated from their culture medium. More recent evidence suggests that the immunomodulatory effects of mesenchymal stem cells are also at least partially mediated by secreted microvesicles. These findings allow better understanding of the mechanisms involved in cell-to-cell interaction and may have interesting implications for the development of novel therapeutic tools in place of the parent cells.
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