Extracellular vesicles: Their role in cancer biology and epithelial-mesenchymal transition

Shashi K. Gopal, David W. Greening, Alin Rai, Maoshan Chen, Rong Xu, Adnan Shafiq, Rommel A. Mathias, Hong Jian Zhu, Richard J. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Cell-cell communication is critical across an assortment of physiological and pathological processes. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) represent an integral facet of intercellular communication largely through the transfer of functional cargo such as proteins, messenger RNAs (mRNAs), microRNA (miRNAs), DNAs and lipids. EVs, especially exosomes and shed microvesicles, represent an important delivery medium in the tumour micro-environment through the reciprocal dissemination of signals between cancer and resident stromal cells to facilitate tumorigenesis and metastasis. An important step of the metastatic cascade is the reprogramming of cancer cells from an epithelial to mesenchymal phenotype (epithelial-mesenchymal transition, EMT), which is associated with increased aggressiveness, invasiveness and metastatic potential. There is now increasing evidence demonstrating that EVs released by cells undergoing EMT are reprogrammed (protein and RNA content) during this process. This review summarises current knowledge of EV-mediated functional transfer of proteins and RNA species (mRNA, miRNA, long non-coding RNA) between cells in cancer biology and the EMT process. An in-depth understanding of EVs associated with EMT, with emphasis on molecular composition (proteins and RNA species), will provide fundamental insights into cancer biology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-45
Number of pages25
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

Cite this

Gopal, S. K., Greening, D. W., Rai, A., Chen, M., Xu, R., Shafiq, A., Mathias, R. A., Zhu, H. J., & Simpson, R. J. (2017). Extracellular vesicles: Their role in cancer biology and epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Biochemical Journal, 474(1), 21-45. https://doi.org/10.1042/BCJ20160006