Buoyant Density Fractionation of Small Extracellular Vesicle Sub-populations Derived from Mammalian Cells

Bio Protoc. 2020 Aug 5;10(15):e3706. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.3706.


Small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) encompass a variety of distinct vesicles that are secreted to the extracellular space. Many methodologies currently used for EV isolation (e.g., differential ultracentrifugation concluding in a high-speed pellet, precipitation by macromolecular crowding agents or size excusion chromatography-SEC) do not fractionate distinct sEV sub-populations. Samples obtained by the aforementioned methods are usually used for characterization and physiological studies. However the fraction that contains the molecule of interest or is the carrier of a specific activity is unknown. Therefore isolating distinct sEV sub-populations is critical to understand EV function. The goal of this procedure is to purify distinct sEV sub-populations based on slight differences in their buoyant density. Moreover, this technique also allows sEVs purification from vesicle-free RNA-protein complexes co-isolating in the high-speed pellet or by the use of crowding agents. This protocol describes cultivation of mammalian cells for sEV collection, sEV sedimentation, buoyant density fractionation of sEV sub-populations and immunoblots for sEV markers. This protocol can be used to fractionate distinct sEV sub-populations produced by a variety of mammalian cells.

Keywords: Buoyant density; Differential ultracentrifugation; Exosomes; Extracellular vesicles; OptiPrep; RNA-protein complexes.