Biomarker potential of brain-secreted extracellular vesicles in blood in Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimers Dement (Amst). 2020 Mar 5;12(1):e12001. doi: 10.1002/dad2.12001. eCollection 2020.


Introduction: Brain cells secrete extracellular microvesicles (EVs) that cross the blood-brain barrier. Involved in cell-to-cell communication, EVs contain surface markers and a biologically active cargo of molecules specific to their tissue (and cell) of origin, reflecting the tissue or cell's physiological state. Isolation of brain-secreted EVs (BEVs) from blood provides a minimally invasive way to sample components of brain tissue in Alzheimer's disease (AD), and is considered a form of "liquid biopsy."

Methods: We performed a comprehensive review of the PubMed literature to assess the biomarker and therapeutic potential of blood-isolated BEVs in AD.

Results: We summarize methods used for BEV isolation, validation, and novel biomarker discovery, as well as provide insights from 26 studies in humans on the biomarker potential in AD of four cell-specific BEVs isolated from blood: neuron-, neural precursor-, astrocyte-, and brain vasculature-derived BEVs. Of these, neuron-derived BEVs has been investigated on several fronts, and these include levels of amyloid-β and tau proteins, as well as synaptic proteins. In addition, we provide a synopsis of the current landscape of BEV-based evaluation/monitoring of AD therapeutics based on two published trials and a review of registered clinical trials.

Discussion: Blood-isolated BEVs have emerged as a novel player in the study of AD, with enormous potential as a diagnostic, evaluation of therapeutics, and treatment tool. The literature has largely concentrated on neuron-derived BEVs in the blood in AD. Given the multifactorial pathophysiology of AD, additional studies, in neuron-derived and other brain cell-specific BEVs are warranted to establish BEVs as a robust blood-based biomarker of AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; blood‐based biomarkers; brain‐secreted extracellular microvesicles; early detection; exosomes; liquid biopsy; therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review