Normal and diseased cells release bilayered membrane-bound nanovesicles into interstitial spaces and into bodily fluids. A subgroup of such microvesicles is called exosomes and is described in blood as 30 to 100 nm in diameter and as spherical to cup-shaped nanoparticles with specific surface molecular characteristics (eg, expression of the tetraspanins CD9, CD81, and CD63). Extracellular microvesicles provide local signals (eg, autocrine and paracrine) and distant endocrine signals to cells via the transfer of their contents, which include signal proteins, lipids, miRNAs, and functional mRNAs. Exosomes and related microvesicles also aid cells in exporting less-needed molecules and potentially harmful molecules, including drugs; in the case of neoplasia, the export of chemotherapeutic drugs may facilitate cellular chemoresistance. Cancers have adapted the exosome and related microvesicles as a pathway by which neoplastic cells communicate with each other (autocrine) and with nonneoplastic cells (paracrine and endocrine); via this pathway, cancer suppresses the immune system and establishes a fertile local and distant environment to support neoplastic growth, invasion, and metastases. Because exosomes mirror and bind to the cells from which they arise, they can be used for delivery of drugs, vaccines, and gene therapy, as biomarkers and targets. We review how exosomes and related extracellular microvesicles facilitate the progression and metastases of cancers and describe how these microvesicles may affect clinical care.
Copyright © 2014 American Society for Investigative Pathology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.