Exosomal miRNAs as novel cancer biomarkers: Challenges and opportunities

J Cell Physiol. 2018 Sep;233(9):6370-6380. doi: 10.1002/jcp.26481. Epub 2018 Mar 25.


A biomarker with high specificity and sensitivity, is a basic requirement for non-invasive cancer diagnosis. Exosomes are a type of lipid bilayer extracellular vesicles (EVs), containing different components, including proteins, lipids, DNA, messenger RNA (mRNA), and non-coding RNAs. Increasing evidence indicates that nucleic acids are protected by exosome lipid membrane. These vesicles are almost released from all cell types, into biological fluids. In cancer, the expression of microRNAs (miRNAs), located in the tumor cell-derived exosomes, is deregulated and it could be led to metastasis and therapy resistance. Due to the presence of exosomes in various body fluids and the stability of miRNAs in exosomes, exosomal miRNAs can provide a new class of biomarkers for early and minimally invasive cancer diagnosis. In this article, we review the miRNAs and their roles in cancer. Furthermore, we explain the different types of EVs, especially exosomes, and their functional roles in cancer. At the end, we discuss about the importance of exosomal miRNAs for cancer diagnosis. As well as, we briefly summarize the exosome isolation techniques and obstacles, limiting the clinical applications of exosomal miRNAs.

Keywords: cancer biomarkers; exosomal miRNAs; exosomes; microRNAs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Exosomes / genetics*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs