Introduction: Exosomes are membrane-bound small extracellular vesicles, which play important roles in intercellular communication, including the feto-maternal communication. Placenta-derived exosomes have been identified in maternal blood of a variety of species, including cattle and sheep.
Methods: Transmission electron microscopy is used to characterize intraluminal vesicles in binucleate trophoblast cell secretory granules and extracellular vesicles in placentome samples from eight ruminant species of the bovidae and cervidae clades.
Results: In all species the secretory granules of binucleate cells contain intraluminal vesicles of 40–70 nm diameter. After fusion of the binucleate trophoblast cells with cells of the uterine epithelium these vesicles are exocytosed together with the granule's secretory proteins. The vesicles are located at the basement membrane of the uterine epithelium and in the connective tissue underneath.
Discussion: We suggest that these vesicles function as exosomes. Their function might be either locally in the maternal endometrial stroma or they could have systemic functions after entering the maternal blood. Earlier electron microscopical studies in other ruminants, including species of the most basic ruminant clade (tragulidae), indicate that the intraluminal vesicles are a general feature of ruminant binucleate trophoblast cell granules. Our findings suggest that ruminant BNC are a source of exosomes, which are released into the maternal organism and are thus a newly described type of feto-maternal communication in ruminants.