Tissue-specific exosome biomarkers for noninvasively monitoring immunologic rejection of transplanted tissue

J Clin Invest. 2017 Apr 3;127(4):1375-1391. doi: 10.1172/JCI87993. Epub 2017 Mar 20.


In transplantation, there is a critical need for noninvasive biomarker platforms for monitoring immunologic rejection. We hypothesized that transplanted tissues release donor-specific exosomes into recipient circulation and that the quantitation and profiling of donor intra-exosomal cargoes may constitute a biomarker platform for monitoring rejection. Here, we have tested this hypothesis in a human-into-mouse xenogeneic islet transplant model and validated the concept in clinical settings of islet and renal transplantation. In the xenogeneic model, we quantified islet transplant exosomes in recipient blood over long-term follow-up using anti-HLA antibody, which was detectable only in xenoislet recipients of human islets. Transplant islet exosomes were purified using anti-HLA antibody-conjugated beads, and their cargoes contained the islet endocrine hormone markers insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin. Rejection led to a marked decrease in transplant islet exosome signal along with distinct changes in exosomal microRNA and proteomic profiles prior to appearance of hyperglycemia. In the clinical settings of islet and renal transplantation, donor exosomes with respective tissue specificity for islet β cells and renal epithelial cells were reliably characterized in recipient plasma over follow-up periods of up to 5 years. Collectively, these findings demonstrate the biomarker potential of transplant exosome characterization for providing a noninvasive window into the conditional state of transplant tissue.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / therapy
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Graft Rejection / blood*
  • Graft Rejection / immunology
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / immunology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans Transplantation
  • Kidney Transplantation
  • Mice, Nude
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Organ Specificity
  • Proteome / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • MicroRNAs
  • Proteome