Specimen-specific drift of densities defines distinct subclasses of extracellular vesicles from human whole saliva

PLoS One. 2021 Apr 8;16(4):e0249526. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249526. eCollection 2021.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) in body fluids constitute heterogenous populations, which mirror their diverse parental cells as well as distinct EV-generation pathways. Various methodologies have been proposed to differentiate EVs in order to deepen the current understanding of EV biology. Equilibrium density-gradient centrifugation has often been used to separate EVs based on their buoyant densities; however, the standard conditions used for the method do not necessarily allow all EVs to move to their equilibrium density positions, which complicates the categorization of EVs. Here, by prolonging ultracentrifugation time to 96 h and fractionating EVs both by floating up or spinning down directions, we allowed 111 EV-associated protein markers from the whole saliva of three healthy volunteers to attain equilibrium. Interestingly, the determined buoyant densities of the markers drifted in a specimen-specific manner, and drift patterns differentiated EVs into at least two subclasses. One class carried classical exosomal markers, such as CD63 and CD81, and the other was characterized by the molecules involved in membrane remodeling or vesicle trafficking. Distinct patterns of density drift may represent the differences in generation pathways of EVs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / metabolism*
  • Centrifugation, Density Gradient / methods*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Saliva / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers

Grant support

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers 17H06255 to KS.