The roles of extracellular vesicles in cancer biology: toward the development of novel cancer biomarkers

Proteomics. 2014 Mar;14(4-5):412-25. doi: 10.1002/pmic.201300389.


Recent important progress in cancer biology was the identification of the significant roles played by extracellular vesicles (EVs). EVs are secreted by a variety of mammalian cell types and have been revealed to play important roles in intercellular communications. EVs serve as unique communication vehicles in many ways. First, unlike cytokine signaling, EVs enable transportation not only of proteins, but also of nucleic acids, including mRNAs and microRNAs. Recent reports showing the functionality of these nucleic acids in the recipient cells have opened up a new avenue of cell-to-cell communication research. Second, EVs have been revealed to transport membrane components including receptors, such as epithelial growth factor receptor. These findings have provided significant insights into understanding the molecular mechanisms of cancer development. Third, EVs protect their contents from clearance by degrading enzymes present in the extracellular space, which allows for remote transportation of the contents, even between organs. This concept is highlighted by recent reports that suggest the deep involvement of cancer cell derived EVs in metastasis. From these points of view, we will summarize recent studies on the relevance of EVs in cancer biology. We will also highlight the possibility of novel diagnostic technologies using circulating EVs in body fluid.

Keywords: Biomarker; Biomedicine; Cancer; Diagnosis; Exosome; Microvesicle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Cell Communication / genetics*
  • Exosomes / genetics
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Transport Vesicles / genetics*
  • Transport Vesicles / metabolism


  • RNA, Messenger