Serum exosomal microRNA analysis in prostate cancer patients treated with radiotherapy

Circulating exosomes from prostate cancer (PCa) patients undergoing radiotherapy are attractive candidate biomarkers for monitoring treatment response. Multiple workflows for isolation and content characterization of exosomes in biofluids have been attempted. We report a protocol to isolate and characterize exosomal miRNAs content and assess radiation-induced changes.

In this pilot study, University of Bern researchers performed targeted exosomal miRNA profiling of 25 serum samples obtained from PCa patients with intermediate- and high-risk disease treated with curative radiotherapy (RT), and controls. Post-treatment blood samples were collected at least 28 days after radiation therapy as a paired follow-up sample. The complete workflow consisted of two phases: I) filtration and polyethylene glycol salt precipitation phase which enriched particles below 200 nm in size followed by characterization using electron microscopy, and II) flow cytometry. Finally, miRNA expression analysis between untreated and treated patient samples was performed using RNA extraction kit, and qRT-PCR.

In the preliminary data, 1 ml of serum from PCa patients showed higher exosomal concentration (3.68E+10) compared to controls (6.07E+08). The overall expression of exosomes after RT was found to be higher compared to untreated samples; the median value changed from 3.68E+10 to 5.40E+10; p = 0.52. Using electron microscopy, the researchers were able to visualize cup-shaped vesicles with morphology and size compatible with exosomes. The bead-based flow cytometry showed positivity for exosomal tetraspanins surface markers CD63 and CD9. All five miRNAs (hsa-let-7a-5p, hsa-miR-141-3p, hsa-miR-145-5p, hsa-miR-21-5p, hsa-miR-99b-5p) have been identified in exosomes. Despite overall changes in hsa-let-7a-5p expression after radiation, the difference was significant only in the high-risk group (p = 0.037). In addition, the radiation response to hsa-miR-21-5p was elevated in the high-risk group compared to the intermediate group (p = 0.036).

Characterization of serum derived exosomes


a, b Transmission electron microscope images of exosomes. Presence of cup-shaped vesicles sized below 200nm; c western blot demonstrating the expression of CD63, and CD81 in selected patients

The recovery of exosomal miRNAs and their differential expression after radiation treatment suggests promising biomarker potential that requires further investigation in larger patient cohorts.

Malla B, Aebersold DM, Dal Pra A. (2018) Protocol for serum exosomal miRNAs analysis in prostate cancer patients treated with radiotherapy. J Transl Med 16(1):223. [article]

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