Effects of gefitinib treatment on cellular uptake of extracellular vesicles in EGFR-mutant non-small cell lung cancer cells

Int J Pharm. 2019 Dec 15:572:118762. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2019.118762. Epub 2019 Oct 11.


Extracellular vesicles (exosomes, EVs) are cell membrane particles (30-200 nm) secreted by virtually all cells. During intercellular communication in the body, secreted EVs play crucial roles by carrying functional biomolecules (e.g., microRNAs and enzymes) into other cells to affect cellular function, including disease progression. We previously reported that the macropinocytosis pathway contributes greatly to the efficient cellular uptake of EVs. The activation of growth factor receptors, such as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), induces macropinocytosis. In this study, we demonstrated the effects of gefitinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor of EGFR, on the cellular uptake of EVs. In EGFR-mutant HCC827 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells, which are sensitive to gefitinib, macropinocytosis was suppressed by gefitinib treatment. However, the cellular uptake of EVs was increased by gefitinib treatment, whereas that of liposomes was reduced. In accordance with the results of the cellular uptake studies, the anti-cancer activity of doxorubicin (DOX)-loaded EVs in HCC827 cells was significantly increased in the presence of gefitinib, whereas the activity of DOX-loaded liposomes was reduced. The digestion of EV proteins by trypsin did not affect uptake, suggesting that the cellular uptake of EVs might not be mediated by EV proteins. These results suggest that gefitinib can enhance cell-to-cell communication via EVs within the tumor microenvironment. In addition, EVs show potential as drug delivery vehicles in combination with gefitinib for the treatment of patients harboring EGFR-mutant NSCLC tumors.

Keywords: EGFR; Exosomes; Extracellular vesicles; Gefitinib; Non-small cell lung cancer.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • Extracellular Vesicles / genetics*
  • Gefitinib / pharmacology*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Doxorubicin
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Gefitinib