MicroRNAs in extracellular vesicles: potential cancer biomarkers

J Hum Genet. 2017 Jan;62(1):67-74. doi: 10.1038/jhg.2016.87. Epub 2016 Jul 7.


Extracellular vesicles (EV) are small membrane-bound structures that are secreted by various cell types, including tumor cells. Recent studies have shown that EVs are important for cell-to-cell communication, locally and distantly; horizontally transferring DNA, mRNA, microRNA (miRNA), proteins and lipids. In the context of cancer biology, tumor-derived EVs are capable of modifying the microenvironment, promoting tumor progression, immune evasion, angiogenesis and metastasis. miRNAs contained within EVs are functionally associated with cancer progression, metastasis and aggressive tumor phenotypes. These factors, along with their stability in bodily fluids, have led to extensive investigations on the potential role of circulating EV-derived miRNAs as tumor biomarkers. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of circulating EV miRNAs in human cancer, and discuss their clinical utility and challenges in functioning as biomarkers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / genetics
  • Exosomes / genetics
  • Extracellular Vesicles / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs