Investigating the Potential and Pitfalls of EV-Encapsulated MicroRNAs as Circulating Biomarkers of Breast Cancer

Cells. 2020 Jan 7;9(1):141. doi: 10.3390/cells9010141.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) shuttle microRNA (miRNA) throughout the circulation and are believed to represent a fingerprint of the releasing cell. We isolated and characterized serum EVs of breast tumour-bearing animals, breast cancer (BC) patients, and healthy controls. EVs were characterized using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), protein quantification, western blotting, and nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA). Absolute quantitative (AQ)-PCR was employed to analyse EV-miR-451a expression. Isolated EVs had the appropriate morphology and size. Patient sera contained significantly more EVs than did healthy controls. In tumour-bearing animals, a correlation between serum EV number and tumour burden was observed. There was no significant relationship between EV protein yield and EV quantity determined by NTA, highlighting the requirement for direct quantification. Using AQ-PCR to relate miRNA copy number to EV yield, a significant increase in miRNA-451a copies/EV was detected in BC patient sera, suggesting potential as a novel biomarker of breast cancer.

Keywords: EV characterization; biomarker; breast cancer; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; microRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs