Emerging roles of extracellular vesicles in COVID-19, a double-edged sword?

Xiaohuan Xia, Ping Yuan, Yihan Liu, Yi Wang, Weijun Cao, Jialin C. Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The sudden outbreak of SARS-CoV-2-infected disease (COVID-19), initiated from Wuhan, China, has rapidly grown into a global pandemic. Emerging evidence has implicated extracellular vesicles (EVs), a key intercellular communicator, in the pathogenesis and treatment of COVID-19. In the pathogenesis of COVID-19, cells that express ACE2 and CD9 can transfer these viral receptors to other cells via EVs, making recipient cells more susceptible for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Once infected, cells release EVs packaged with viral particles that further facilitate viral spreading and immune evasion, aggravating COVID-19 and its complications. In contrast, EVs derived from stem cells, especially mesenchymal stromal/stem cells, alleviate severe inflammation (cytokine storm) and repair damaged lung cells in COVID-19 by delivery of anti-inflammatory molecules. These therapeutic beneficial EVs can also be engineered into drug delivery platforms or vaccines to fight against COVID-19. Therefore, EVs from diverse sources exhibit distinct effects in regulating viral infection, immune response, and tissue damage/repair, functioning as a double-edged sword in COVID-19. Here, we summarize the recent progress in understanding the pathological roles of EVs in COVID-19. A comprehensive discussion of the therapeutic effects/potentials of EVs is also provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-430
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Cytokine storm
  • Extracellular vesicle
  • Inflammation
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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