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Mass Spectrom Rev. 2016 Jan-Feb;35(1):3-21. doi: 10.1002/mas.21457. Epub 2015 Feb 20.

Mass spectrometry of extracellular vesicles.

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Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics, Institute of Biosciences and BioResources, National Research Council of Italy, Naples, Italy.
Division of Nephrology, Department of Cardio-Vascular Sciences, Second University of Naples, Naples, Italy.
Mass Spectrometry Proteomics Group, Institute of Organic Chemistry, Research Centre for Natural Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary.
Department of Genetics, Cell- and Immunobiology, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary.


The review briefly summaries main features of extracellular vesicles, a joint terminology for exosomes, microvesicles, and apoptotic vesicles. These vesicles are in the center of interest in biology and medical sciences, and form a very active field of research. Mass spectrometry (MS), with its specificity and sensitivity, has the potential to identify and characterize molecular composition of these vesicles; but as yet there are only a limited, but fast-growing, number of publications that use MS workflows in this field. MS is the major tool to assess protein composition of extracellular vesicles: qualitative and quantitative proteomics approaches are both reviewed. Beside proteins, lipid and metabolite composition of vesicles might also be best assessed by MS techniques; however there are few applications as yet in this respect. The role of alternative analytical approaches, like gel-based proteomics and antibody-based immunoassays, are also mentioned. The objective of the review is to give an overview of this fast-growing field to help orient MS-based research on extracellular vesicles.


biomarker discovery; extracellular vesicles; lipids; proteins; subcellular proteomics

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