Viral co-infection complicates the use of exosome miRNAs as biomarkers of disease

Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) is the etiological agent of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). Both KSHV and HIV infections are endemic in Uganda, where KS is among the most common cancers in HIV-infected individuals. Recent studies examined the use of small RNAs as biomarkers of disease, including microRNAs (miRNAs), with viral and tumor-derived miRNAs being detected in exosomes from individuals with KSHV-associated malignancies.

Here, researchers from Seattle Children’s Research Institute analyzed the host and viral extracellular mature miRNA expression profiles in blood of KS-negative individuals in Uganda, comparing those with or without KSHV detectable from the oropharynx. They observed increased levels of cellular oncogenic miRNAs and decreased levels of tumor-suppressor miRNAs in plasma of infected individuals exhibiting oral KSHV shedding. These changes in host oncomiRs were exacerbated in people co-infected with HIV, and partially reversed after 2 years of anti-retroviral therapy. They also detected KSHV miRNAs in plasma of KSHV infected individuals and determined that their expression levels correlated with KSHV plasma viremia. Deep sequencing revealed an expected profile of small cellular RNAs in plasma, with miRNAs constituting the major RNA biotype. In contrast, the composition of small RNAs in exosomes was highly atypical with high levels of YRNA and low levels of miRNAs. Mass spectrometry analysis of the exosomes revealed eleven different peptides derived from the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, and small RNA sequencing confirmed widespread plasmodium co-infections in the Ugandan cohorts. Proteome analysis indicated an exosomal protein profile consistent with erythrocyte and keratinocyte origins for the plasma exosomes. A strong correlation was observed between the abundance of Plasmodium proteins and cellular markers of malaria. As Plasmodium falciparum is an endemic pathogen in Uganda, this study shows that co-infection with other pathogens, such as KSHV, can severely impact the small RNA repertoire, complicating the use of exosome miRNAs as biomarkers of disease.

Small RNA biotypes distribution in plasma exosomes


Segments of the bar indicate the percent of reads attributed to each RNA type among all the small RNA reads that mapped to the human reference genome (hg19).

Ikoma M, Gantt S, Casper C, Ogata Y, Zhang Q, Basom R, et al. (2018) KSHV oral shedding and plasma viremia result in significant changes in the extracellular tumorigenic miRNA expression profile in individuals infected with the malaria parasite. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0192659.[article]

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