Intravesicular Genomic DNA Enriched by Size Exclusion Chromatography Can Enhance Lung Cancer Oncogene Mutation Detection Sensitivity

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Dec 16;23(24):16052. doi: 10.3390/ijms232416052.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are cell-derived structures surrounded by a lipid bilayer that carry RNA and DNA as potential templates for molecular diagnostics, e.g., in cancer genotyping. While it has been established that DNA templates appear on the outside of EVs, no consensus exists on which nucleic acid species inside small EVs (<200 nm, sEVs) are sufficiently abundant and accessible for developing genotyping protocols. We investigated this by extracting total intravesicular nucleic acid content from sEVs isolated from the conditioned cell medium of the human NCI-H1975 cell line containing the epidermal growth factor (EGFR) gene mutation T790M as a model system for non-small cell lung cancer. We observed that mainly short genomic DNA (<35−100 bp) present in the sEVs served as a template. Using qEV size exclusion chromatography (SEC), significantly lower yield and higher purity of isolated sEV fractions were obtained as compared to exoEasy membrane affinity purification and ultracentrifugation. Nevertheless, we detected the EGFR T790M mutation in the sEVs’ lumen with similar sensitivity using digital PCR. When applying SEC-based sEV separation prior to cell-free DNA extraction on spiked human plasma samples, we found significantly higher mutant allele frequencies as compared to standard cell-free DNA extraction, which in part was due to co-purification of circulating tumor DNA. We conclude that intravesicular genomic DNA can be exploited next to ctDNA to enhance EGFR T790M mutation detection sensitivity by adding a fast and easy-to-use sEV separation method, such as SEC, upstream of standard clinical cell-free DNA workflows.

Keywords: EGFR T790M; digital droplet PCR; extracellular vesicles; genotyping; intravesicular DNA; non-small cell lung cancer; size exclusion chromatography.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / diagnosis
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids*
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • Circulating Tumor DNA*
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Mutation
  • Oncogenes
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors


  • ErbB Receptors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Circulating Tumor DNA
  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids