Sources and Functions of Extracellular Small RNAs in Human Circulation

Joëlle V. Fritz, Anna Heintz-Buschart, Anubrata Ghosal, Linda Wampach, Alton Etheridge, David Galas, Paul Wilmes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


Various biotypes of endogenous small RNAs (sRNAs) have been detected in human circulation, including microRNAs, transfer RNAs, ribosomal RNA, and yRNA fragments. These extracellular sRNAs (ex-sRNAs) are packaged and secreted by many different cell types. Ex-sRNAs exhibit differences in abundance in several disease states and have, therefore, been proposed for use as effective biomarkers. Furthermore, exosome-borne ex-sRNAs have been reported to elicit physiological responses in acceptor cells. Exogenous ex-sRNAs derived from diet (most prominently from plants) and microorganisms have also been reported in human blood. Essential issues that remain to be conclusively addressed concern the (a) presence and sources of exogenous ex-sRNAs in human bodily fluids, (b) detection and measurement of ex-sRNAs in human circulation, (c) selectivity of ex-sRNA export and import, (d) sensitivity and specificity of ex-sRNA delivery to cellular targets, and (e) cell-, tissue-, organ-, and organism-wide impacts of ex-sRNA-mediated cell-to-cell communication. We survey the present state of knowledge of most of these issues in this review.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-336
Number of pages36
JournalAnnual Review of Nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Blood
  • Gene regulation
  • MicroRNA
  • Microorganisms
  • Plant
  • Vesicle


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