Tiny Actors in the Big Cellular World: Extracellular Vesicles Playing Critical Roles in Cancer

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Oct 17;21(20):7688. doi: 10.3390/ijms21207688.


Communications among cells can be achieved either via direct interactions or via secretion of soluble factors. The emergence of extracellular vesicles (EVs) as entities that play key roles in cell-to-cell communication offer opportunities in exploring their features for use in therapeutics; i.e., management and treatment of various pathologies, such as those used for cancer. The potential use of EVs as therapeutic agents is attributed not only for their cell membrane-bound components, but also for their cargos, mostly bioactive molecules, wherein the former regulate interactions with a recipient cell while the latter trigger cellular functions/molecular mechanisms of a recipient cell. In this article, we highlight the involvement of EVs in hallmarks of a cancer cell, particularly focusing on those molecular processes that are influenced by EV cargos. Moreover, we explored the roles of RNA species and proteins carried by EVs in eliciting drug resistance phenotypes. Interestingly, engineered EVs have been investigated and proposed as therapeutic agents in various in vivo and in vitro studies, as well as in several clinical trials.

Keywords: cancer; cell-to-cell communication; extracellular vesicles; therapeutic agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Extracellular Vesicles / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy