Decoding Genetic Messages
We explore how the exchange of small non-coding RNAs via extracellular vesicles (EV) contributes to intercellular communication between immune cells. In the characterisation of this RNA, we go beyond the conventional screening of microRNAs. We also include analysis of the large spectrum of small non-coding RNA biotypes found in extracellular vesicles. The current view is that not only microRNAs, but many different non-coding RNAs and fragments of these RNAs can play a role in gene regulation, such as transfer RNAs, nuclear and nucleolar RNAs. Cues from the environment, such as virus infections or signals inducing metabolic reprogramming, are known to lead to changes in the function of both innate and adaptive immune cells. We analyse how such environmental cues lead to changes in the RNA content of extracellular vesicles released by immune cells. Decoding the genetic messages in extracellular vesicles will help to unravel their role in immune cell communication.
This work may also yield candidate RNA-biomarkers for diagnosis of immune-related diseases. We currently investigate the differences in vesicle-mediated communication between immune-stimulating and immune-suppressing dendritic cells. Furthermore, we study how naked viruses induce changes in how infected cells communicate via extracellular vesicles. Our multidisciplinary approach integrates knowledge and methodologies from the fields of Cell Biology, Immunology, Genomics, and Virology.