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Clin Cancer Res. 2011 Mar 1;17(5):959-64. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-10-1489. Epub 2011 Jan 11.

Exosomes and cancer: a newly described pathway of immune suppression.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.


Exosomes are small (30 to 100 nm) membrane-bound particles that are released from normal, diseased, and neoplastic cells and are present in blood and other bodily fluids. Exosomes contain a variety of molecules including signal peptides, mRNA, microRNA, and lipids. Exosomes can function to export from cells unneeded endogenous molecules and therapeutic drugs. When exosomes are taken up by specific cells, they may act locally to provide autocrine or paracrine signals or, at a distance, as a newly described nanoparticle-based endocrine system. Specifically, mRNA transferred to cells by exosomes can result in the production of new proteins. In cancer, signals via exosomes affect the immune system by inhibiting the functions of T cells and normal killer (NK) cells and by inhibiting the differentiation of precursors to mature antigen-presenting cells. Also, exosomes increase the number and/or activity of immune suppressor cells, including myeloid-derived suppressor cells, T-regulatory cells, and CD14(+), HLA-DR(-/low) cells. The effects of exosomes on the development and progression of cancers, with an emphasis on suppression of immune surveillance, is described. Also discussed are potential uses of exosomes clinically, in the development of vaccines, in targeting tumors, and in diagnosis and/or early detection.

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