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Summary

Although the observation that Gram-negative bacteria produce outer membrane vesicles (MVs) was made over 40 years ago, their biological roles have become a focus of study only within the past 10 years. Recent progress in this area has revealed that bacterial MVs are utilized for several processes including delivery of toxins to eukaryotic cells, protein and DNA transfer between bacterial cells, and trafficking of cell–cell signals. Some of these roles appear to be generalized among the Gram-negative bacteria while others are restricted to specific bacterial species/strains. Here we review the known roles of MVs, propose other roles for MVs in mediating interspecies and inter-kingdom communication, and discuss the mechanism of MV formation.