Retroviruses appropriate pre-existing cellular machineries to propagate. In the last decade, impressive similarities have been observed in the generation and dissemination in the host cells of retroviruses and small cellular vesicles known as exosomes. These cellular vesicles are thought to facilitate intercellular communication processes and mediate immune functions. However, their link to the retroviral life cycle has given rise to distinct hypotheses and puzzling dilemmas. Are exosomes the antecessors of retroviruses or do retroviruses merely exploit the same cellular machinery designated for exosome biosynthesis? Here, we address these fascinating evolutionary questions by reviewing recent discoveries and analysing the controversies surrounding them. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.