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Front Pharmacol. 2013 Mar 6;4:21. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00021. eCollection 2013.

Extracellular vesicles - biomarkers and effectors of the cellular interactome in cancer.

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The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal Children's Hospital, McGill University Montreal, QC, Canada.


In multicellular organisms both health and disease are defined by patterns of communication between the constituent cells. In addition to networks of soluble mediators, cells are also programed to exchange complex messages pre-assembled as multimolecular cargo of membraneous structures known extracellular vesicles (EV). Several biogenetic pathways produce EVs with different properties, and known as exosomes, ectosomes, and apoptotic bodies. In cancer, EVs carry molecular signatures and effectors of the disease, such as mutant oncoproteins, oncogenic transcripts, microRNA, and DNA sequences. Intercellular trafficking of such EVs (oncosomes) may contribute to horizontal cellular transformation, phenotypic reprograming, and functional re-education of recipient cells, both locally and systemically. The EV-mediated, reciprocal molecular exchange also includes tumor suppressors, phosphoproteins, proteases, growth factors, and bioactive lipids, all of which participate in the functional integration of multiple cells and their collective involvement in tumor angiogenesis, inflammation, immunity, coagulopathy, mobilization of bone marrow-derived effectors, metastasis, drug resistance, or cellular stemness. In cases where the EV role is rate limiting their production and uptake may represent and unexplored anticancer therapy target. Moreover, oncosomes circulating in biofluids of cancer patients offer an unprecedented, remote, and non-invasive access to crucial molecular information about cancer cells, including their driver mutations, classifiers, molecular subtypes, therapeutic targets, and biomarkers of drug resistance. New nanotechnologies are being developed to exploit this unique biomarker platform. Indeed, embracing the notion that human cancers are defined not only by processes occurring within cancer cells, but also between them, and amidst the altered tumor and systemic microenvironment may open new diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities.


cancer; cellular interactions; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; oncogenes

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