Optic neuritis (ON) is frequently encountered in multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, anti-myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein associated disease, and other systemic autoimmune disorders. The hallmarks are an abnormal optic nerve and inflammatory demyelination; episodes of optic neuritis tend to be recurrent, and particularly for neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, may result in permanent vision loss.
Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy is a promising approach that results in remyelination, neuroprotection of axons, and has demonstrated success in clinical studies in other neuro-degenerative diseases and in animal models of ON. However, cell transplantation has significant disadvantages and complications. Cell-free approaches utilizing extracellular vesicles (EVs) produced by MSCs exhibit anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects in multiple animal models of neuro-degenerative diseases and in rodent models of multiple sclerosis (MS). EVs have potential to be an effective cell-free therapy in optic neuritis because of their anti-inflammatory and remyelination stimulating properties, ability to cross the blood brain barrier, and ability to be safely administered without immunosuppression.
We review the potential application of MSC EVs as an emerging treatment strategy for optic neuritis by reviewing studies in multiple sclerosis and related disorders, and in neurodegeneration, and discuss the challenges and potential rewards of clinical translation of EVs including cell targeting, carrying of therapeutic microRNAs, and prolonging delivery for treatment of optic neuritis.