Exosomes in cardiovascular diseases – good or bad?


Exosomes and other extracellular vesicles (EVs) are key mediators of intercellular communication that impact the physiology of cells, tissues and organs. Exosomes participate in cellular functions, including carrying and delivering cargo such as proteins, liquids, messenger RNA (mRNA) and non-coding RNA (ncRNA). Due to their ability to circulate freely in body fluids and provide a protective shuttle mechanism for their cargo, exosomes are natural sources of noninvasive diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers that may serve as vehicles of targeted therapy for human diseases (1). Among these diseases, cardiovascular disease represents one of the most intensely studied and rapidly growing areas of extracellular vesicle research (2, 3).

In a recent symposium review in the Journal of Physiology, “Extracellular vesicles in cardiovascular disease: are they Jedi or Sith?”, Osteikoetxea et al. reviewed the biological roles of EVs in cardiovascular diseases (4). EVs have been shown to exert diverse and sometimes discordant biological effects in different studies related to cardiovascular disease. The observed discrepancy raised a question whether these vesicles are, in fact, beneficial or detrimental to cardiovascular health. The author discussed the possible factors that may cause the discordant functions of EVs.

1. Inherent differences of EV subtypes. Certain subpopulations might be responsible for specific biological effects.

2. Differences in the EV-releasing cell types. Different cell type-derived EVs can have either protective or pathogenic effects on the cardiovascular system. Based on the currently available literature, endothelial cell-, stem cell (SC)- and dendritic cell (DC)-derived EVs are protective. Cardiomyocyte-, cardiac fibroblast-, and platelet-derived EVs, however, have been shown to be pathogenic.

3. Differences in the functional states of EV-releasing cells. While EVs derived from different types of cells exhibit specific biological roles, the functional state of the EV-releasing cells should also be taken into account, as it can have an important impact on the resulting biological effect.

4. Differences in post-synthetic modifications to molecules of EVs. EVs and their cargos may undergo various post-synthetic modifications that can alter their biological effects on recipient cells.

Taking these factors into account, EVs not only have diverse biological roles but also have combinatorial effects on target cells. The biological effects observed with isolated EVs may vary across different experimental settings. It’s up to you, the researcher, to understand the specific model system and experimental conditions you are undertaking.

Uncovering the functional relevance and contents of EVs requires effective isolation and purification. So how can you best enrich and isolate intact exosomes and other microvesicles, and then efficiently purify exosomal RNAs? Using a spin column format and specialized buffers, QIAGEN provides dedicated extraction kits to ease your exosome research.

exoEasy Maxi Kit – Allows you to efficiently enrich and isolate intact exosomes and other extracellular vesicles from plasma, serum and cell culture supernatant within 25 minutes.

exoRNeasy Serum/Plasma Kits – Allow you to enrich and isolate exosomal RNAs from serum samples, plasma samples and other body fluids in less than one hour.

Visit our exosome research portal to explore exosomes and their hidden secrets with leading exosome technology.


  1. 1. Corrado, C., Raimondo, S., Chiesi, A., Ciccia, F., De Leo, G., Alessandro, R. (2013) Exosomes as intercellular signaling organelles involved in health and disease: basic science and clinical applications. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 14, 5338. Link
  2. 2. Kishore, R., Srikanth, V.N., Gumpert A. (2016) Tiny shuttles for information transfer: exosomes in cardiac health and disease. J. Cardiovasc. Trans. Res. 9, 169. Link
  3. 3. Barile, L., Moccetti, T., Marbán, E., Vassalli, G. (2016) Roles of exosomes in cardioprotection. Eur. Heart J. pii: ehw304. Link
  4. 4. Osteikoetxea, X., Németh, A., Sódar, B.W., Vukman, K.V., Buzás, E.I. (2016) Extracellular vesicles in cardiovascular disease: are they Jedi or Sith? J. Physiol. 594, 2881. Link
Wei Cao, Ph.D.

Global Marketing Manager, Translational Sciences

Dr. Wei Cao joined QIAGEN in 2010 and currently leads the webinar program, presenting various topics on advanced techniques in biomedical research. She received her Ph.D. from Peking University in China in 2010, and conducted postdoctoral research at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Before joining QIAGEN, Dr. Cao worked as a senior scientist in R&D in pharmaceutical and biotech, focusing on HIV, HCV and cancer drug discovery and development.

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