Molecular components of exosomes and other classes of small extracellular vesicles (sEV) present in human biofluids are potential biomarkers with possible applicability in the early detection of lung cancer. Here, we compared the lipid profiles of serum-derived sEV from three groups of lung cancer screening participants: individuals without pulmonary alterations, individuals with benign lung nodules, and patients with screening-detected lung cancer (81 individuals in each group). Extracellular vesicles and particles were purified from serum by size-exclusion chromatography, and a fraction enriched in sEV and depleted of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) was selected (similar sized vesicles was observed in all groups: 70-100 nm). The targeted mass-spectrometry-based approach enabled the detection of 352 lipids, including 201 compounds used in quantitative analyses. A few compounds, exemplified by Cer(42:1), i.e., a ceramide whose increased plasma/serum level was reported in different pathological conditions, were upregulated in vesicles from cancer patients. On the other hand, the contribution of phosphatidylcholines with poly-unsaturated acyl chains was reduced in vesicles from lung cancer patients. Cancer-related features detected in serum-derived sEV were different than those of the corresponding whole serum. A high heterogeneity of lipid profiles of sEV was observed, which markedly impaired the performance of classification models based on specific compounds (the three-state classifiers showed an average AUC = 0.65 and 0.58 in the training and test subsets, respectively).
Keywords: biomarkers; early detection; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; lung cancer; metabolomics; screening; serum.