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J Immunol Methods. 2016 Feb;429:39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2015.12.011. Epub 2015 Dec 23.

Evaluation of optimal extracellular vesicle small RNA isolation and qRT-PCR normalisation for serum and urine.

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Institute of Cellular Medicine, Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK. Electronic address:
Institute of Cellular Medicine, Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK.


MicroRNAs are small regulatory molecules that demonstrate useful biomarker potential. They have been recognised in biofluids, where they are protected from degradation by encapsulation into extracellular vesicles (EVs). A number of commercial products are available for the isolation of EVs and their RNA content; however, extensive protocol comparisons are lacking. Furthermore, robust qRT-PCR assessment of microRNA expression within EVs is problematic, as endogenous controls (ECs) previously used in cellular samples may not be present. This study compares EV isolation and RNA extraction methods (EV precipitation reagents, RNA isolation kits and ultracentrifugation) from serum or urine samples and evaluates suitable ECs for incorporation into qRT-PCR analysis. Results were assessed by electron microscopy, nanoparticle tracking analysis and bioanalyzer concentrations. The stability of 8 ECs was compared for both serum and urine EV RNA and retrospectively validated in independent cohorts (serum n=55, urine n=50). The Life Technologies precipitation reagent gave superior serum EV recovery compared to SBI reagent, as assessed by NTA size distribution, increased RNA concentration, and lower small RNA Ct values. Similarly, the Norgen Biotek Urine Exosome RNA Isolation Kit gave improved results for urine EV isolation compared to ultracentrifugation, when determined by the same parameters. The Qiagen miRNeasy™ RNA isolation kit gave suitable serum EV RNA concentrations compared to other kits, as assessed by Bioanalyzer and small RNA qRT-PCR. Small RNAs HY3 (S.D=1.77, CoV=6.2%) and U6 (S.D=2.14, CoV=8.6%) were selected as optimal ECs for serum EV microRNA expression analysis, while HY3 (S.D=1.67, CoV=6.5%) and RNU48 (S.D=1.85, CoV=5.3%) were identified as suitable for urine studies. In conclusion, this study identifies optimal methods for isolation of serum and urine EV RNA, and suitable ECs for normalisation of qRT-PCR studies. Such reports should aid in the standardisation of EV microRNA data, particularly for biomarker studies.


Endogenous control; Extracellular vesicle; MicroRNA; qRT-PCR

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