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J Hum Genet. 2017 Jan;62(1):67-74. doi: 10.1038/jhg.2016.87. Epub 2016 Jul 7.

MicroRNAs in extracellular vesicles: potential cancer biomarkers.

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Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Radiation Oncology, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.


Extracellular vesicles (EV) are small membrane-bound structures that are secreted by various cell types, including tumor cells. Recent studies have shown that EVs are important for cell-to-cell communication, locally and distantly; horizontally transferring DNA, mRNA, microRNA (miRNA), proteins and lipids. In the context of cancer biology, tumor-derived EVs are capable of modifying the microenvironment, promoting tumor progression, immune evasion, angiogenesis and metastasis. miRNAs contained within EVs are functionally associated with cancer progression, metastasis and aggressive tumor phenotypes. These factors, along with their stability in bodily fluids, have led to extensive investigations on the potential role of circulating EV-derived miRNAs as tumor biomarkers. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of circulating EV miRNAs in human cancer, and discuss their clinical utility and challenges in functioning as biomarkers.

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