Exosomes in the hypoxic TME: from release, uptake and biofunctions to clinical applications

Mol Cancer. 2022 Jan 17;21(1):19. doi: 10.1186/s12943-021-01440-5.


Hypoxia is a remarkable trait of the tumor microenvironment (TME). When facing selective pressure, tumor cells show various adaptive characteristics, such as changes in the expression of cancer hallmarks (increased proliferation, suppressed apoptosis, immune evasion, and so on) and more frequent cell communication. Because of the adaptation of cancer cells to hypoxia, exploring the association between cell communication mediators and hypoxia has become increasingly important. Exosomes are important information carriers in cell-to-cell communication. Abundant evidence has proven that hypoxia effects in the TME are mediated by exosomes, with the occasional formation of feedback loops. In this review, we equally focus on the biogenesis and heterogeneity of cancer-derived exosomes and their functions under hypoxia and describe the known and potential mechanism ascribed to exosomes and hypoxia. Notably, we call attention to the size change of hypoxic cancer cell-derived exosomes, a characteristic long neglected, and propose some possible effects of this size change. Finally, jointly considering recent developments in the understanding of exosomes and tumors, we describe noteworthy problems in this field that urgently need to be solved for better research and clinical application.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Biological Transport
  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / genetics
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / genetics


  • Biomarkers