Fluorescence triggering: A general strategy for enumerating and phenotyping extracellular vesicles by flow cytometry

Cytometry A. 2016 Feb;89(2):184-95. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.22669. Epub 2015 Apr 9.


Plasma contains cell-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) which participate in various physiopathological processes and have potential biomedical applications. Despite intense research activity, knowledge on EVs is limited mainly due to the difficulty of isolating and characterizing sub-micrometer particles like EVs. We have recently reported that a simple flow cytometry (FCM) approach based on triggering the detection on a fluorescence signal enabled the detection of 50× more Annexin-A5 binding EVs (Anx5+ EVs) in plasma than the conventional FCM approach based on light scattering triggering. Here, we present the application of the fluorescence triggering approach to the enumeration and phenotyping of EVs from platelet free plasma (PFP), focusing on CD41+ and CD235a+ EVs, as well as their sub-populations which bind or do not bind Anx5. Higher EV concentrations were detected by fluorescence triggering as compared to light scattering triggering, namely 40× for Anx5+ EVs, 75× for CD41+ EVs, and 15× for CD235a+ EVs. We found that about 30% of Anx5+ EVs were of platelet origin while only 3% of them were of erythrocyte origin. In addition, a majority of EVs from platelet and erythrocyte origin do not expose PS, in contrast to the classical theory of EV formation. Furthermore, the same PFP samples were analyzed fresh and after freeze-thawing, showing that freeze-thawing processes induce an increase, of about 35%, in the amount of Anx5+ EVs, while the other EV phenotypes remain unchanged. The method of EV detection and phenotyping by fluorescence triggering is simple, sensitive and reliable. We foresee that its application to EV studies will improve our understanding on the formation mechanisms and functions of EVs in health and disease and help the development of EV-based biomarkers.

Keywords: annexin A5; blood plasma; cell-derived microparticles; erythrocyte; flow cytometry; fluorescence triggering; phosphatidylserines; platelet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Annexin A5 / chemistry
  • Extracellular Vesicles / chemistry*
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Limit of Detection
  • Phenotype
  • Platelet Membrane Glycoprotein IIb / chemistry
  • Staining and Labeling


  • Annexin A5
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Platelet Membrane Glycoprotein IIb