Nutrition and Health Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Liu et al. Journal of Nanobiotechnology (2023) 21:352


Open access.


Background Macrophages are highly plastic innate immune cells that play key roles in host defense, tissue repair, and homeostasis maintenance. In response to divergent stimuli, macrophages rapidly alter their functions and manifest a wide polarization spectrum with two extremes: M1 or classical activation and M2 or alternative activation. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted from differentially activated macrophages have been shown to have diverse functions, which are primarily attributed to their microRNA cargos. The role of protein cargos in these EVs remains largely unexplored. Therefore, in this study, we focused on the protein cargos in macrophage-derived EVs.

Results Naïve murine bone marrow-derived macrophages were treated with lipopolysaccharide or interlukin-4 to induce M1 or M2 macrophages, respectively. The proteins of EVs and their parental macrophages were subjected to quantitative proteomics analyses, followed by bioinformatic analyses. The enriched proteins of M1-EVs were involved in proinflammatory pathways and those of M2-EVs were associated with immunomodulation and tissue remodeling. The signature proteins of EVs shared a limited subset of the proteins of their respective progenitor macrophages, but they covered many of the typical pathways and functions of their parental cells, suggesting their respective M1-like and M2-like phenotypes and functions. Experimental examination validated that protein cargos in M1- or M2-EVs induced M1 or M2 polarization, respectively. More importantly, proteins in M1-EVs promoted viability, proliferation, and activation of T lymphocytes, whereas proteins in M2-EVs potently protected the tight junction structure and barrier integrity of epithelial cells from disruption. Intravenous administration of M2-EVs in colitis mice led to their accumulation in the colon, alleviation of colonic inflammation, promotion of M2 macrophage polarization, and improvement of gut barrier functions. Protein cargos in M2-EVs played a key role in their protective function in colitis.

Conclusion This study has yielded a comprehensive unbiased dataset of protein cargos in macrophage-derived EVs, provided a systemic view of their potential functions, and highlighted the important engagement of protein cargos in the pathophysiological functions of these EVs.