Extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted from many cell types play important roles in intercellular communication, both as paracrine and endocrine factors, as they can circulate in biological fluids, including plasma. Amid EVs, exosomes are actively secreted vesicles that contain proteins, lipids, soluble factors, and nucleic acids, including microRNAs (miRNAs) and other classes of small RNAs (sRNA). miRNAs are prominent post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression and epigenetic silencers of transcription. We concisely review the roles of miRNAs in cell-fate determination and development and their regulatory activity on almost all the processes and pathways controlling tumor formation and progression. Next, we consider the evidence linking exosomes to tumor progression, particularly to the setting-up of permissive pre-metastatic niches. The study of exosomes in patients with different survival and therapy response can inform on the possible correlations between exosomal cargo and disease features. Moreover, the exploration of circulating exosomes as possible sources of non-invasive biomarkers could give new implements for anti-cancer therapy and metastasis prevention. Since the characterization of sRNAs in exosomes of cancer patients sparks opportunities to better understand their roles in cancer, we briefly present current experimental and computational protocols for sRNAs analysis in circulating exosomes by RNA-seq.
Keywords: exosomes, cancer, small RNA, miRNA, RNA‐seq.