The Hidden Link of Exosomes to Head and Neck Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Nov 19;13(22):5802. doi: 10.3390/cancers13225802.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) represents an aggressive and heterogenous group of cancers whose pathologies remain largely unresolved. Despite recent advances in HNSCC therapeutic strategies, the overall survival of HNSCC patients remains poor and continues to prompt efforts to develop more effective therapies. Exosomes are a subtype of extracellular vesicles secreted by a variety of cells that have begun to spark significant interest in their roles in cancer. As membranous vesicles, spanning from 30-150 nm in diameter, exosomes mediate the transport of various molecules, such as proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids, intercellularly throughout the body. In doing so, exosomes not only act to deliver materials to cancer cells but also as signals that can confer their progression. Accumulating evidence shows the direct correlation between exosomes and the aggressiveness of HNSCC. However, more research is warranted in this field to further our understanding. In this review, we attempt to highlight the tumor-supporting roles and therapeutic potential of exosomes in HNSCC. We introduce first the biogenesis and component features of exosomes, followed by their involvement in HNSCC proliferation and metastasis. We then move on to discuss HNSCC-derived exosomes' influence on the tumor microenvironment and their function in tumor drug resistance. Finally, we explore the promising potential of exosomes as HNSCC biomarkers and therapeutic targets and drug carriers for HNSCC treatments.

Keywords: biomarker; exosomes; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; the tumor microenvironment; therapeutic targets.

Publication types

  • Review