Electron micrograph of exosomes on a surface.

Exosomes are not a typical term you hear every day, especially in relation to stem cells or mental health. However, these tiny sacs within the body are found within our cellular fluid (mainly within the cytoplasm of a cell), and perform a vast amount of important functions in order to keep the body moving as it should – an even more so in regards to how our cells should be functioning.

Exosomes can be found within many different compartments of bodily fluids, including blood, breast milk, saliva, urine, and semen, just to name a few. These exosomes are produced in high amounts in the body, and are key components in both cellular communication and transportation -both with cells that are healthy, as well as cells that show signs of damage or disease.(1)

So how do exosomes relate to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer’s is very common, accounting for between 60-80% of all dementia cases, and affecting over 200,000 people before they turn 65. This disease presents itself with symptoms of memory loss and a gradual loss of cognitive abilities, enough so that people affected with late-stage Alzheimer’s eventually cannot carry on a conversation or perform activities of daily living without assistance.(2)

Because Alzheimer’s is an advanced and progressive disorder of the brain that is yet to be stopped or reversed, researchers have been studying the effects of the body’s own exosomes to try and make forward progress in improving the signs and symptoms of this terrible disease. Studies have shown that exosomes that come from mesenchymal stem cells (cells that are able to grow and develop into other types of cells) have the ability to not only increase cognitive responses in the brain, but they can also improve how the brain changes and operates – which is imperative in a case of dementia or Alzheimer’s, where the elasticity of the brain is disabled due to plaque and tangles that kill nerve cells.(3)

Updated research has shown us that within the older adult brain, there is the ability to replace and rebuild the cells that are typically lost in the brain during the progression and process of Alzheimer’s disease. Stem cells like the mesenchymal type have been noted to help promote recovery of the tissue within the brain – and one of the top factors in regulating the positive activity of these stem cells within the brain are exosomes.(3)

Because these exosomes are constantly traveling through the bloodstream and carrying information, it seems as though these microscopic transporters are the perfect vessel in order to help promote healing and regeneration within the brain. One recent study even showed that mesenchymal stem cells and their corresponding vessels – the exosomes – are effective in lowering the oxidative stress within the brain, and have anti-inflammatory properties…both of which are necessary in order to fit back against the plaque and degeneration that goes along with dementia.(3)

It has been noted that exosomes can also travel across the blood-brain barrier, which makes them a terrific vehicle for carrying different therapeutic treatments to the brain, and easily. Studies show that exosomes from mesenchymal stem cells help to promote plasticity within the tissues, and aid in repairing brain tissue and cells that have been damaged, either from injuries or a disease like dementia.(4)

Along with this repair and regeneration, these mesenchymal stem cells have also been reported to lower the oxidative stress within the hippocampus, which in turn helps to promote the generation of new brain tissue.(5) This in turn correlates with improvement in cognitive behavior, and the social aspect that goes along with it.(6)

Essentially, it can be stated that exosomes are fully capable of being a successful treatment option when supporting dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, both by reducing inflammation as well as encouraging the growth of new brain tissue.  In this rapidly evolving field, regenerative medicine is an exciting adjunct to looking at the root cause and triggers to chronic conditions such as dementia.  Even with regenerative medicine this therapies success is tied to reducing or eliminating triggers like blood sugar dysregulation, infections and abnormal hormone levels that drive cognitive decline disorders.  Putting these together can become a potent strategy to let your health (and brain) soar!

Talk with your local functional medicine team in Boulder, Colorado for more information on this therapeutic treatment of dementia!

(1) Hildreth, C. (2018). What Are Exosomes? Exosome Definition. BioInformant.

(2) What Is Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s Association.

(3) Reza-Zaldivar, E., Hernandez-Sapiens, M., Gutierrez-Mercado, Y., Sandoval-Avila, S., Gomez-Pinedo, U., Marquez-Aguirre, A….& Canales-Aguirre, A. (2019). Mesenchymal stem cell-derived exosomes promote neurogenesis and cognitive function recovery in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neural Regeneration Research, 14(9), pp. 1626-1634.

(4) Cai, Z. Y., Xiao, M., Quazi, S. H., & Ke, Z. Y. (2018). Exosomes: a novel therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease?. Neural regeneration research, 13(5), 930–935. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.232490

(5) Cui Y, Ma S, Zhang C, Cao W, Liu M, Li D, Lv P, Xing Q, Qu R, Yao N, Yang B, Guan F. (2017). Human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells transplantation improves cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease mice by decreasing oxidative stress and promoting hippocampal neurogenesis. Behavioural Brain Research, 320(1), pp. 291-301.

(6) Gobshtis N, Tfilin M, Wolfson M, Fraifeld VE, Turgeman G. (2017). Transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells reverses behavioural deficits and impaired neurogenesis caused by prenatal exposure to valproic acid. Oncotarget, 8(17), pp. 443-17452