- Exosome mediated intercellular signaling from blood to brain (2012)
- The brain is characterized by its immune privileged state. However, recent studies suggest an extended contribution of hematopoietic cells to the brain. After transplantation of genetically labeled bone marrow into bone marrow depleted mice, not only labeled blood cells but also labeled neurons and other non-hematopoietic cells can be observed. Initially interpreted as transdifferentiated hematopoietic stem cells, this contribution later was identified as cell fusion of hematopoietic cells and neurons. Our lab previously addressed the question whether these fusion events also occur under non-invasive conditions. A Cre-LoxP based transgenic mouse line was used to irreversibly label all hematopoietic cells. In these mice, Cre expression is controlled by a hematopoietic promoter, thus causing recombination and subsequent marker gene expression restricted to blood cells. Interestingly, contribution of these hematopoietic cells to non-hematopoietic tissues was observed, but fusion could be excluded as the underlying mechanism. The Cre mRNA or protein seems to reach the non-hematopoietic cells from an external source. Extracellular vesicles, specifically exosomes, are increasingly recognized as a vehicle for the intercellular transfer of cellular components such as proteins or mRNAs. However, if they contribute to signaling between tissues in vivo is completely unknown and would represent a major paradigm shift for intercellular communication. Therefore, the aim of this PhD study is to investigate whether an exosomal transfer between the hematopoietic system and the brain exists. To confirm the previous results, a second Cre-LoxP mouse line that expresses the Cre recombinase under a different hematopoietic promoter is used additionally. Both mouse lines are screened for recombination and show comparable numbers and types of different non-hematopoietic cells. Besides hepatocytes and cells in lung and intestine, recombined Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum are detectable. To assess the influence of inflammation on these recombination events, different lesions such as peripheral tumors or peritonitis are applied to the mice. Inflammatory stimuli strongly increase the numbers of recombined Purkinje neurons. These neurons remain mononuclear, indicating that fusion does not occur. Also in human cerebellar material, no evidence for inflammation induced cell fusion is detectable. To screen for Cre recombinase containing exosomes, exosome purification protocols such as differential ultracentrifugation and sucrose gradient fractioning, are applied. The exosomal content is analyzed with nested PCR and western blot. Hematopoietically expressed Cre mRNA is detectable in blood plasma and hematopoietic cell culture conditioned medium. Further analysis reveals that this Cre mRNA but no Cre protein is contained in exosomes. The exosomal ability to induce recombination is investigated by injections into Cre reporter mice. After direct cerebellar injection, exosomes are sufficient to induce recombination of Purkinje neurons. Brain tissue of mice that received an inflammation is analyzed further to reveal other recombined cell types. The main immune cells of the brain, microglia, are not recombined. Mainly neuronal cell types are recombined in different areas of the brain. The observations made in this study are consistent with the hypothesis that a previously unrecognized way to communicate RNA based signals between the immune system and the brain exists. Specifically neurons are target cells for the uptake of hematopoietic exosomes and seem able to translate exosomal mRNA into functional protein. Microglial cells are neither involved as target cells, nor do they release Cre containing exosomes. By using the Cre-LoxP system, in vivo tracing of exosomes could be achieved for the first time. With this knowledge, other exosomal routes can be uncovered in future. The discovery of the exosomal transfer between the blood and the brain enables further research about the relevance of this signaling pathway. It will be important to investigate its role especially in the context of neural malfunctions and further studies might help to find new therapeutical approaches.