Nutrition and Health Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Extracell Vesicles Circ Nucl Acids. 2023 September ; 4(3): 339–346. doi:10.20517/evcna.2023.25.


Open access.


Small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) in milk have the qualities desired for delivering therapeutics to diseased tissues. The production of bovine milk sEVs is scalable (1021 annually per cow), and they resist degradation in the gastrointestinal tract. Most cells studied to date internalize milk sEVs by a saturable process that follows Michaelis-Menten kinetics. The bioavailability of oral milk sEVs is approximately 50%. In addition to crossing the intestinal mucosa, milk sEVs also cross barriers such as the placenta and blood-brain barrier, thereby enabling the delivery of therapeutics to hard-to-reach tissues. In time course studies, levels of milk sEVs peaked in the intestinal mucosa, plasma, and urine approximately 6 h and returned to baseline 24 h after oral gavage in mice. In tissues, milk sEV levels peaked 12 h after gavage. Milk sEVs appear to be biologically safe. No cytokine storm was observed when milk sEVs were added to cultures of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells or administered orally to rats. Liver and kidney function and erythropoiesis were not impaired when milk sEVs were administered to rats by oral gavage for up to 15 days. Protocols for loading milk sEVs with therapeutic cargo are available. Currently, the use of milk sEVs (and other nanoparticles) in the delivery of therapeutics is limited by their rapid elimination through internalization by macrophages and lysosomal degradation in target cells. This mini review discusses the current knowledge base of sEV tissue distribution, excretion in feces and urine, internalization by macrophages, and degradation in lysosomes.