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Zhou F, Ebea P, Mutai E, Wang H, Sukreet S, Navazesh S, Dogan H, Li W, Cui J, Ji P, Ramirez DMO and Zempleni J (2022) Small Extracellular Vesicles in Milk Cross the Blood-Brain Barrier in Murine Cerebral Cortex Endothelial Cells and Promote Dendritic Complexity in the Hippocampus and Brain Function in C57BL/6J Mice. Front. Nutr. 9:838543. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.838543


Copyright © 2022 Zhou, Ebea, Mutai, Wang, Sukreet, Navazesh, Dogan, Li, Cui, Ji, Ramirez and Zempleni. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).


Human milk contains large amounts of small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) and their microRNA cargos, whereas infant formulas contain only trace amounts of sEVs and microRNAs. We assessed the transport of sEVs across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and sEV accumulation in distinct regions of the brain in brain endothelial cells and suckling mice. We further assessed sEV-dependent gene expression profiles and effects on the dendritic complexity of hippocampal granule cells and phenotypes of EV depletion in neonate, juvenile and adult mice. The transfer of sEVs across the BBB was assessed by using fluorophore-labeled bovine sEVs in brain endothelial bEnd.3 monolayers and dual chamber systems, and in wild-type newborn pups fostered to sEV and cargo tracking (ECT) dams that express sEVs labeled with a CD63-eGFP fusion protein for subsequent analysis by serial two-photon tomography and staining with anti-eGFP antibodies. Effects of EVs on gene expression and dendritic architecture of granule cells was analyzed in hippocampi from juvenile mice fed sEV and RNA-depleted (ERD) and sEV and RNA-sufficient (ERS) diets by using RNA-sequencing analysis and Golgi-Cox staining followed by integrated neuronal tracing and morphological analysis of neuronal dendrites, respectively. Spatial learning and severity of kainic acid-induced seizures were assessed in mice fed ERD and ERS diets. bEnd.3 cells internalized sEVs by using a saturable transport mechanism and secreted miR-34a across the basal membrane. sEVs penetrated the entire brain in fostering experiments; major regions of accumulation included the hippocampus, cortex and cerebellum. Two hundred ninetyfive genes were differentially expressed in hippocampi from mice fed ERD and ERS diets; high-confidence gene networks included pathways implicated in axon guidance and calcium signaling. Juvenile pups fed the ERD diet had reduced dendritic complexity of dentate granule cells in the hippocampus, scored nine-fold lower in the Barnes maze test of spatial learning and memory, and the severity of seizures was 5-fold higher following kainic acid administration in adult mice fed the ERD diet compared to mice fed the ERS diet. We conclude that sEVs cross the BBB and contribute toward optimal neuronal development, spatial learning and memory, and resistance to kainic acid-induced seizures in mice.