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J Biol Chem. 2009 Dec 4;284(49):34211-22. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.041152. Epub 2009 Sep 30.

Microenvironmental pH is a key factor for exosome traffic in tumor cells.

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Department of Hematology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome 00161, Italy.


Exosomes secreted by normal and cancer cells carry and deliver a variety of molecules. To date, mechanisms referring to tumor exosome trafficking, including release and cell-cell transmission, have not been described. To gain insight into this, exosomes purified from metastatic melanoma cell medium were labeled with a lipid fluorescent probe, R18, and analyzed by spectrofluorometry and confocal microscopy. A low pH condition is a hallmark of tumor malignancy, potentially influencing exosome release and uptake by cancer cells. Using different pH conditions as a modifier of exosome traffic, we showed (i) an increased exosome release and uptake at low pH when compared with a buffered condition and (ii) exosome uptake by melanoma cells occurred by fusion. Membrane biophysical analysis, such as fluidity and lipid composition, indicated a high rigidity and sphingomyelin/ganglioside GM3 (N-acetylneuraminylgalactosylglucosylceramide) content in exosomes released at low pH. This was likely responsible for the increased fusion efficiency. Consistent with these results, pretreatment with proton pump inhibitors led to an inhibition of exosome uptake by melanoma cells. Fusion efficiency of tumor exosomes resulted in being higher in cells of metastatic origin than in those derived from primary tumors or normal cells. Furthermore, we found that caveolin-1, a protein involved in melanoma progression, is highly delivered through exosomes released in an acidic condition. The results of our study provide the evidence that exosomes may be used as a delivery system for paracrine diffusion of tumor malignancy, in turn supporting the importance of both exosomes and tumor pH as key targets for future anti-cancer strategies.

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