Extracellular vesicles are membrane-bound vesicles containing proteins, lipids, RNAs and microRNAs. They can originate from both healthy and stressed cells, and provide a snapshot of the cell of origin in physiological and pathological circumstances. Various processes that may give rise to the release of extracellular vesicles occur in liver diseases, including hepatocyte apoptosis, hepatic stellate cell activation, liver innate immune system activation, systemic inflammation, and organelle dysfunction (mitochondrial dysfunction and endoplasmic reticulum stress). Numerous studies have therefore investigated the potential role of extracellular vesicles as biomarkers in liver diseases. This review provides an overview of the methods that can be used to measure extracellular vesicle concentrations in clinical settings, ranging from plasma preparation to extracellular vesicle measurement techniques, as well as looking at the challenges of using extracellular vesicles as biomarkers. We also provide a comprehensive review of studies that test extracellular vesicles as diagnostic, severity and prognostic biomarkers in various liver diseases, including non-alcoholic and alcoholic steatohepatitis, viral hepatitis B and C infections, cirrhosis, primary liver cancers, primary sclerosing cholangitis and acute liver failure. In particular, extracellular vesicles could be useful tools to evaluate activity and fibrosis in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, predict risk of hepatitis B virus reactivation, predict complications and mortality in cirrhosis, detect early hepatocellular carcinoma, detect malignant transformation in primary sclerosing cholangitis and predict outcomes in acute liver failure. While most studies draw on data derived from pilot studies, which still require clinical validation, some extracellular vesicle subpopulations have already been evaluated in solid prospective studies.
Keywords: Alcohol; Cancer; Cirrhosis; Exosome; Liver; Microparticle; Microvesicle; Vesicle.
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