Purpose of review: Microvesicles (also known as microparticles) are small membranous structures that are released from platelets and cells upon activation or during apoptosis. Microvesicles have been found in blood, urine, synovial fluid, extracellular spaces of solid organs, atherosclerotic plaques, tumors, and elsewhere. Here, we focus on new clinical and basic work that implicates microvesicles as markers and mediators of endothelial dysfunction and hence novel contributors to cardiovascular and other diseases.
Recent findings: Advances in the detection of microvesicles and the use of cell type-specific markers to determine their origin have allowed studies that associated plasma concentrations of specific microvesicles with major types of endothelial dysfunction – namely, inappropriate or maladaptive vascular tone, leukocyte recruitment, and thrombosis. Recent investigations have highlighted microvesicular transport of key biologically active molecules besides tissue factor, such as ligands for pattern-recognition receptors, elements of the inflammasome, and morphogens. Microvesicles generated from human cells under different pathologic circumstances, for example, during cholesterol loading or exposure to endotoxin, carry different subsets of these molecules and thereby alter endothelial function through several distinct, well characterized molecular pathways.
Summary: Clinical and basic studies indicate that microvesicles may be novel markers and mediators of endothelial dysfunction. This work has advanced our understanding of the development of cardiovascular and other diseases. Opportunities and obstacles to clinical applications are discussed.