Extracellular Vesicles in Bile as Markers of Malignant Biliary Stenoses

Gastroenterology. 2017 Aug;153(2):495-504.e8. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.04.043. Epub 2017 May 4.


Background & aims: Algorithms for diagnosis of malignant common bile duct (CBD) stenoses are complex and lack accuracy. Malignant tumors secrete large numbers of extracellular vesicles (EVs) into surrounding fluids; EVs might therefore serve as biomarkers for diagnosis. We investigated whether concentrations of EVs in bile could discriminate malignant from nonmalignant CBD stenoses.

Methods: We collected bile and blood samples from 50 patients undergoing therapeutic endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography at university hospitals in Europe for CBD stenosis of malignant (pancreatic cancer, n = 20 or cholangiocarcinoma, n = 5) or nonmalignant (chronic pancreatitis [CP], n = 15) origin. Ten patients with CBD obstruction due to biliary stones were included as controls. EV concentrations in samples were determined by nanoparticle tracking analyses. The discovery cohort comprised the first 10 patients with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, based on tissue analysis, and 10 consecutive controls. Using samples from these subjects, we identified a threshold concentration of bile EVs that could best discriminate between patients with pancreatic cancer from controls. We verified the diagnostic performance of bile EV concentration by analyzing samples from the 30 consecutive patients with a diagnosis of malignant (pancreatic cancer or cholangiocarcinoma, n = 15) or nonmalignant (CP, n = 15) CBD stenosis. Samples were compared using the Mann-Whitney test and nonparametric Spearman correlation analysis. Receiver operating characteristic area under the curve was used to determine diagnostic accuracy.

Results: In both cohorts, the median concentration of EVs was significantly higher in bile samples from patients with malignant CBD stenoses than controls or nonmalignant CBD stenoses (2.41 × 1015 vs 1.60 × 1014 nanoparticles/L in the discovery cohort; P < .0001 and 4.00 × 1015 vs 1.26 × 1014 nanoparticles/L in the verification cohort; P < .0001). A threshold of 9.46 × 1014 nanoparticles/L in bile best distinguished patients with malignant CBD from controls in the discovery cohort. In the verification cohort, this threshold discriminated malignant from nonmalignant CBD stenoses with 100% accuracy. Serum concentration of EVs distinguished patients with malignant vs patients with nonmalignant CBD stenoses with 63.3% diagnostic accuracy.

Conclusions: Concentration of EVs in bile samples discriminates between patients with malignant vs nonmalignant CBD stenosis with 100% accuracy. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings. Clinical Trial registration no: ISRCTN66835592.

Keywords: Biliary Strictures; Exosomes; Microparticles; Microvesicles.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / complications*
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Bile*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / complications
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Cholestasis / diagnosis
  • Cholestasis / etiology*
  • Europe
  • Extracellular Vesicles*
  • Female
  • Gallstones / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / complications*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatitis, Chronic / complications
  • Pancreatitis, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • ROC Curve


  • Biomarkers, Tumor