Circulating extracellular vesicles from patients with acute chest syndrome disrupt adherens junctions between endothelial cells

Pediatr Res. 2021 Mar;89(4):776-784. doi: 10.1038/s41390-020-0923-5. Epub 2020 May 26.


Background: Small cell-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) can affect endothelial function. We previously found that patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) have greater numbers of circulating EVs than subjects without the disease, and the EVs differentially disrupt endothelial integrity in vitro. Because endothelial disruption is a critical component of acute chest syndrome (ACS), we hypothesized that EVs isolated during ACS would induce greater endothelial damage than those isolated at baseline.

Methods: Nine pediatric subjects had plasma isolated at baseline and during ACS from which EVs were isolated. Cultured microvascular endothelial cells were treated with EVs and then studied by immunofluorescence microscopy to localize VE-cadherin and F-actin.

Results: The EVs had a diameter of 95 nm. They contained CD63 and flotillin-1, which were increased in SCD patients (5-13-fold compared to control) and further increased between baseline and ACS (24-57%). The EVs contained hemoglobin, glycophorin A, and ferritin. Treatment with baseline EVs caused modest separation of endothelial cells, while ACS EVs caused substantial disruptions of the endothelial cell monolayers. EVs from subjects with ACS also caused a 50% decrease in protein levels of VE-cadherin.

Conclusions: These results suggest that circulating EVs can modulate endothelial integrity contributing to the development of ACS in SCD patients by altering cadherin-containing intercellular junctions.

Impact: Sickle cell disease patients have circulating extracellular vesicles (EVs) that modulate endothelial integrity by altering cadherin-containing intercellular junctions. Disruption is more severe by EVs obtained during acute chest syndrome (ACS). These results expand our knowledge of the pathophysiology of acute chest syndrome and the vasculopathies of sickle cell disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Acute Chest Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Adherens Junctions / metabolism*
  • Adolescent
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / metabolism*
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Heme
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microcirculation
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry


  • Actins
  • Antigens, CD
  • Cadherins
  • cadherin 5
  • Heme