The ability to track extracellular vesicles (EVs) in vivo without influencing their biodistribution is a key requirement for their successful development as drug delivery vehicles and therapeutic agents. Here, a team of researchers at AstraZeneca and King’s College London evaluated the effect of five different optical and nuclear tracers on the in vivo biodistribution of EVs. Expi293F EVs were labeled using either a noncovalent fluorescent dye DiR, or covalent modification with 111indium-DTPA, or bioengineered with fluorescent (mCherry) or bioluminescent (Firefly and NanoLuc luciferase) proteins fused to the EV marker, CD63. To focus specifically on the effect of the tracer, the researchers compared EVs derived from the same cell source and administered systemically by the same route and at equal dose into tumor-bearing BALB/c mice. 111Indium and DiR were the most sensitive tracers for in vivo imaging of EVs, providing the most accurate quantification of vesicle biodistribution by ex vivo imaging of organs and analysis of tissue lysates. Specifically, NanoLuc fused to CD63 altered EV distribution, resulting in high accumulation in the lungs, demonstrating that genetic modification of EVs for tracking purposes may compromise their physiological biodistribution. Blood kinetic analysis revealed that EVs are rapidly cleared from the circulation with a half-life below 10 min.
This study demonstrates that radioactivity is the most accurate EV tracking approach for a complete quantitative biodistribution study including pharmacokinetic profiling. The researchers provide a comprehensive comparison of fluorescent, bioluminescent, and radioactivity approaches, including dual labeling of EVs, to enable accurate spatiotemporal resolution of EV trafficking in mice, an essential step in developing EV therapeutics.