BACKGROUND - Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are a heterogeneous class of lipid bound particles shed by any cell in the body in physiological and pathological conditions. EVs play critical functions in intercellular communication. EVs can actively travel in intercellular matrices and eventually reach the circulation. They can also be released directly in biological fluids where they appear to be stable. Because the molecular content of EVs reflects the composition of the cell of origin, they have recently emerged as a promising source of biomarkers in a number of diseases. EV analysis is particularly attractive in cancer patients that frequently present with increased numbers of circulating EVs.
METHODS - We sought to review the current literature on the molecular profile of prostate cancer-derived EVs in model systems and patient biological fluids in an attempt to draw some practical and universal conclusions on the use of EVs as a tool for liquid biopsy in clinical specimens.
RESULTS - We discuss advantages and limitations of EV-based liquid biopsy approaches summarizing salient studies on protein, DNA and RNA. Several candidate biomarkers have been identified so far but these results are difficult to apply to the clinic. However, the field is rapidly moving toward the implementation of novel tools to isolate cancer-specific EVs that are free of benign EVs and extra-vesicular contaminants. This can be achieved by identifying markers that are exquisitely present in tumor cell-derived EVs. An important contribution might also derive from a better understanding of EV types that may play specific functions in tumor progression and that may be a source of cancer-specific markers.
CONCLUSIONS - EV analysis holds strong promises for the development of non-invasive biomarkers in patients with prostate cancer. Implementation of modern methods for EV isolation and characterization will enable to interrogate circulating EVs in vivo.