The role and potential application of extracellular vesicles in liver cancer

Sci China Life Sci. 2021 Apr 9. doi: 10.1007/s11427-020-1905-7. Online ahead of print.


Liver cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer-related death worldwide and mainly includes hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cholangiocarcinoma (CCA). Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are membrane-derived nanometer-sized vesicles that can be released by different cell types under normal and pathological conditions and thus play important roles in the transmission of biological information between cells. Increasing evidence suggests that liver cancer cell-derived EVs may help establish a favorable microenvironment to support the proliferation, invasion and metastasis of cancer cells. In this review, we summarized the role of EVs in the tumor microenvironment (TME) during the development and progression of liver cancer. As messenger carriers, EVs are loaded by various biomolecules, such as proteins, RNA, DNA, lipids and metabolites, making them potential liquid biopsy biomarkers for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer. We also highlighted the progress of EVs as antigen carriers and EV-based therapeutics in preclinical studies of liver cancer.

Keywords: EV-based therapy; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; liver cancer; microvesicles; noninvasive biomarker; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review