Due to the substantial heterogeneity among extracellular vesicle (EV) subpopulations, single-EV analysis has the potential to elucidate the mechanisms behind EV biogenesis and shed light on the myriad functions, leading to the development of novel diagnostics and therapeutics. While many studies have been devoted to reveal between-EV variations in surface proteins and RNAs, DNA cargos (EV-DNA) have received little attention.
Researchers at Shandong University have developed a hydrogel-based droplet digital multiple displacement amplification approach for the comprehensive analysis of EV-DNA at the single-EV level. Single EVs are dispersed in thousands of hydrogel droplets and lysed for DNA amplification and identification. The droplet microfluidics strategy empowers the assay with single-molecule sensitivity and capability for absolute quantification of DNA-containing EVs. In particular, these findings indicate that 5–40% EVs are associated with DNA, depending on the cell of origin. Large EVs exhibit a higher proportion of DNA-containing EVs and a more substantial presence of intraluminal DNA, compared to small EVs. These DNA-containing EVs carry multiple DNA fragments on average. Furthermore, both double-stranded DNA and single-stranded DNA were able to be detected at the single-EV level. Utilizing this method, the abundance, distribution, and biophysical properties of EV-DNA in various EV populations are evaluated. The DNA level within EVs provides insight into the status of the originating cells and offers valuable information on the outcomes of anticancer treatments. The utilization of single-EV analysis for EV-DNA holds significant promise for early cancer detection and treatment response monitoring.