Anchorage-independent growth of breast carcinoma cells is mediated by serum exosomes

Exp Cell Res. 2009 Jul 1;315(11):1875-88. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2009.03.010. Epub 2009 Mar 24.


We hereby report studies that suggest a role for serum exosomes in the anchorage-independent growth (AIG) of tumor cells. In AIG assays, fetal bovine serum is one of the critical ingredients. We therefore purified exosomes from fetal bovine serum and examined their potential to promote growth of breast carcinoma cells in soft agar and Matrigel after reconstituting them into growth medium (EEM). In all the assays, viable colonies were formed only in the presence of exosomes. Some of the exosomal proteins we identified, have been documented by others and could be considered exosomal markers. Labeled purified exosomes were up-taken by the tumor cells, a process that could be competed out with excess unlabeled vesicles. Our data also suggested that once endocytosed by a cell, the exosomes could be recycled back to the conditioned medium from where they can be up-taken by other cells. We also demonstrated that low concentrations of exosomes activate MAP kinases, suggesting a mechanism by which they maintain the growth of the tumor cells in soft agar. Taken together, our data demonstrate that serum exosomes form a growth promoting platform for AIG of tumor cells and may open a new vista into cancer cell growth in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Proteins / physiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Exosomes / physiology*
  • Exosomes / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Proteomics
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • alpha-2-HS-Glycoprotein


  • AHSG protein, human
  • Blood Proteins
  • alpha-2-HS-Glycoprotein