Emergent properties of extracellular vesicles: a holistic approach to decode the complexity of intercellular communication networks
Shedding of nano-sized bilayered extracellular vesicles and extracellular vesicle-mediated intercellular communication are evolutionarily conserved biological processes. Communication between cells and the environment is an essential process in living organisms and dysregulation of intercellular communication leads to various diseases. Thus, systematic studies on extracellular vesicles, also known as exosomes, microvesicles, and outer membrane vesicles, are critical for a deeper understanding of intercellular communication networks that are crucial for decoding the exact causes of various difficult-to-cure diseases. Recent progress in this emerging field reveals that extracellular vesicles are endogenous carriers of specific subsets of proteins, mRNAs, miRNAs, and other bioactive materials, as well as play diverse pathophysiological roles. However, certain issues regarding diverse subtypes and the complex pathophysiological roles of extracellular vesicles are not yet clearly elucidated. In this review, we first briefly introduce the complexity of extracellular vesicles in terms of their vesicular cargos and protein–protein interaction networks, their diverse subtypes, and multifaceted pathophysiological functions. Then, we introduce the limitation of reductionist approaches in understanding the complexity of extracellular vesicles. We finally suggest that molecular systems biology approaches based on the concept of emergent properties are essential for a comprehensive understanding of the complex pathophysiological functions of heterogeneous extracellular vesicles, either at the single vesicle level or at a systems level as a whole.