Extracellular vesicles: potential applications in cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and epidemiology

BMC Clin Pathol. 2015 Apr 15;15:6. doi: 10.1186/s12907-015-0005-5. eCollection 2015.


Both normal and diseased cells continuously shed extracellular vesicles (EVs) into extracellular space, and the EVs carry molecular signatures and effectors of both health and disease. EVs reflect dynamic changes that are occurring in cells and tissue microenvironment in health and at a different stage of a disease. EVs are capable of altering the function of the recipient cells. Trafficking and reciprocal exchange of molecular information by EVs among different organs and cell types have been shown to contribute to horizontal cellular transformation, cellular reprogramming, functional alterations, and metastasis. EV contents may include tumor suppressors, phosphoproteins, proteases, growth factors, bioactive lipids, mutant oncoproteins, oncogenic transcripts, microRNAs, and DNA sequences. Therefore, the EVs present in biofluids offer unprecedented, remote, and non-invasive access to crucial molecular information about the health status of cells, including their driver mutations, classifiers, molecular subtypes, therapeutic targets, and biomarkers of drug resistance. In addition, EVs may offer a non-invasive means to assess cancer initiation, progression, risk, survival, and treatment outcomes. The goal of this review is to highlight the current status of information on the role of EVs in cancer, and to explore the utility of EVs for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and epidemiology.

Keywords: Cancer; Diagnosis; Epidemiology; Exosomes; Extracellular vesicles; Microvesicles.