Active cargo loading into extracellular vesicles: Highlights the heterogeneous encapsulation behaviour

Extracellular Vesicles

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have demonstrated unique advantages in serving as nanocarriers for drug delivery, yet the cargo encapsulation efficiency is far from expectation, especially for hydrophilic chemotherapeutic drugs. Besides, the intrinsic heterogeneity of EVs renders it difficult to evaluate drug encapsulation behaviour. Inspired by the active drug loading strategy of liposomal nanomedicines, here we report the development of a method, named "Sonication and Extrusion-assisted Active Loading" (SEAL), for effective and stable drug encapsulation of EVs. Using doxorubicin-loaded milk-derived EVs (Dox-mEVs) as the model system, sonication was applied to temporarily permeabilize the membrane, facilitating the influx of ammonium sulfate solution into the lumen to establish the transmembrane ion gradient essential for active loading. Along with extrusion to downsize large mEVs, homogenize particle size and reshape the nonspherical or multilamellar vesicles, SEAL showed around 10-fold enhancement of drug encapsulation efficiency compared with passive loading. Single-particle analysis by nano-flow cytometry was further employed to reveal the heterogeneous encapsulation behaviour of Dox-mEVs which would otherwise be overlooked by bulk-based approaches. Correlation analysis between doxorubicin auto-fluorescence and the fluorescence of a lipophilic dye DiD suggested that only the lipid-enclosed particles were actively loadable. Meanwhile, immunofluorescence analysis revealed that more than 85% of the casein positive particles was doxorubicin free. These findings further inspired the development of the lipid-probe- and immuno-mediated magnetic isolation techniques to selectively remove the contaminants of non-lipid enclosed particles and casein assemblies, respectively. Finally, the intracellular assessments confirmed the superior performance of SEAL-prepared mEV formulations, and demonstrated the impact of encapsulation heterogeneity on therapeutic outcome. The as-developed cargo-loading approach and nano-flow cytometry-based characterization method will provide an instructive insight in the development of EV-based delivery systems.

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Cigarette smoke (CS) represents one of the most relevant environmental risk factors for several chronic pathologies. Tissue damage caused by CS exposure is mediated, at least in part, by oxidative stress induced by its toxic and pro-oxidant components. Evidence demonstrates that extracellular vesicles (EVs) released by various cell types exposed to CS extract (CSE) are characterized by altered biochemical cargo and gained pathological properties. In the present study, we evaluated the content of oxidized proteins and phospholipid fatty acid profiles of EVs released by human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells treated with CSE. This specific molecular characterization has hitherto not been performed. After confirmation that CSE reduces viability of BEAS-2B cells and elevates intracellular ROS levels, in a dose-dependent manner, we demonstrated that 24 h exposure at 1% CSE, a concentration that only slight modifies cell viability but increases ROS levels, was able to increase carbonylated protein levels in cells and released EVs. The release of oxidatively modified proteins via EVs might represent a mechanism used by cells to remove toxic proteins in order to avoid their intracellular overloading. Moreover, 1% CSE induced only few changes in the fatty acid asset in BEAS-2B cell membrane phospholipids, whereas several rearrangements were observed in EVs released by CSE-treated cells. The impact of changes in acyl chain composition of CSE-EVs accounted for the increased saturation levels of phospholipids, a membrane parameter that might influence EV stability, uptake and, at least in part, EV-mediated biological effects. The present in vitro study adds new information concerning the biochemical composition of CSE-related EVs, useful to predict their biological effects on target cells. Furthermore, the information regarding the presence of oxidized proteins and the specific membrane features of CSE-related EVs can be useful to define the utilization of circulating EVs as marker for diagnosing of CS-induced lung damage and/or CS-related diseases.

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