Background: Extracellular vesicles contain biological molecules specified by cell-type of origin and modified by microenvironmental changes. To conduct reproducible studies on exosome content and function, storage conditions need to have minimal impact on airway exosome integrity. Aim: We compared surface properties and protein content of airway exosomes that had been freshly isolated vs. those that had been treated with cold storage or freezing. Methods: Mouse bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) exosomes purified by differential ultracentrifugation were analysed immediately or stored at +4°C or -80°C. Exosomal structure was assessed by dynamic light scattering (DLS), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and charge density (zeta potential, ζ). Exosomal protein content, including leaking/dissociating proteins, were identified by label-free LC-MS/MS. Results: Freshly isolated BALF exosomes exhibited a mean diameter of 95 nm and characteristic morphology. Storage had significant impact on BALF exosome size and content. Compared to fresh, exosomes stored at +4°C had a 10% increase in diameter, redistribution to polydisperse aggregates and reduced ζ. Storage at -80°C produced an even greater effect, resulting in a 25% increase in diameter, significantly reducing the ζ, resulting in multilamellar structure formation. In fresh exosomes, we identified 1140 high-confidence proteins enriched in 19 genome ontology biological processes. After storage at room temperature, 848 proteins were identified. In preparations stored at +4°C, 224 proteins appeared in the supernatant fraction compared to the wash fractions from freshly prepared exosomes; these proteins represent exosome leakage or dissociation of loosely bound "peri-exosomal" proteins. In preparations stored at -80°C, 194 proteins appeared in the supernatant fraction, suggesting that distinct protein groups leak from exosomes at different storage temperatures. Conclusions: Storage destabilizes the surface characteristics, morphological features and protein content of BALF exosomes. For preservation of the exosome protein content and representative functional analysis, airway exosomes should be analysed immediately after isolation.
Keywords: Extracellular vesicles; bronchoalveolar lavage; label-free; quantitative proteomics; storage conditions.