Exercise, healthy ageing, and the potential role of small extracellular vesicles

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) can be released from most cells in the body and act as intercellular messengers transferring information in their cargo to affect cellular function. A growing body of evidence suggests that a subset of EVs, referred to here as ‘small extracellular vesicles’ (sEVs), can accelerate or slow the processes of ageing and age-related diseases dependent on their molecular cargo and cellular origin. Continued exploration of the vast complexity of the sEV cargo aims to further characterise these systemic vehicles that may be targeted to ameliorate age-related pathologies. Marked progress in the development of mass spectrometry-based technologies means that it is now possible to characterise a significant proportion of the proteome of sEVs (surface and cargo) via unbiased proteomics. This information is vital for identifying biomarkers and the development of sEV-based therapeutics in the context of ageing. Although exercise and physical activity are prominent features in maintaining health in advancing years, the mechanisms responsible are unclear. A potential mechanism by which plasma sEVs released during exercise could influence ageing and senescence is via the increased delivery of cargo proteins that function as antioxidant enzymes or inhibitors of senescence. These have been observed to increase in sEVs following acute and chronic exercise, as identified via independent interrogation of high coverage, publicly available proteomic datasets. Establishing tropism and exchange of functionally active proteins by these processes represents a promising line of enquiry in implicating sEVs as biologically relevant mediators of the ageing process.