Discrimination between exosomes and HIV-1: purification of both vesicles from cell-free supernatants

J Immunol Methods. 2008 Sep 30;338(1-2):21-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2008.07.007. Epub 2008 Jul 31.


Although enveloped retroviruses bud from the cell surface of T lymphocytes, they use the endocytic pathway and the internal membrane of multivesicular bodies for their assembly and release from macrophages and dendritic cells (DCs). Exosomes, physiological nanoparticles produced by hematopoietic cells, egress from this same pathway and are similar to retroviruses in terms of size, density, the molecules they incorporate and their ability to activate immune cells. Retroviruses are therefore likely to contaminate in vitro preparations of exosomes and vice versa and sucrose gradients are inefficient at separating them. However, we have found that their sedimentation velocities in an iodixanol (Optiprep) velocity gradient are sufficiently different to allow separation and purification of both vesicles. Using acetylcholinesterase as an exosome marker, we demonstrate that Optiprep velocity gradients are very efficient in separating exosomes from HIV-1 particles produced on 293T cells, primary CD4(+) T cells, macrophages or DCs, with exosomes collecting at 8.4-12% iodixanol and HIV-1 at 15.6%. We also show that immunodepletion with an anti-acetylcholinesterase antibody rapidly produces highly purified preparations of HIV-1 or exosomes. These findings have applications in fundamental research on exosomes and/or AIDS, as well as in clinical applications where exosomes are involved, more specifically in tumour therapy or in gene therapy using exosomes generated from DCs genetically modified by transfection with virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / analysis
  • Cell Line
  • Cytoplasmic Vesicles*
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / analysis
  • Ultracentrifugation
  • Virion / isolation & purification*


  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Acetylcholinesterase