Multiplex Analysis of CircRNAs from Plasma Extracellular Vesicle-Enriched Samples for the Detection of Early-Stage Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Extracellular Vesicles

BACKGROUND: The analysis of liquid biopsies brings new opportunities in the precision oncology field. Under this context, extracellular vesicle circular RNAs (EV-circRNAs) have gained interest as biomarkers for lung cancer (LC) detection. However, standardized and robust protocols need to be developed to boost their potential in the clinical setting. Although nCounter has been used for the analysis of other liquid biopsy substrates and biomarkers, it has never been employed for EV-circRNA analysis of LC patients. METHODS: EVs were isolated from early-stage LC patients (n = 36) and controls (n = 30). Different volumes of plasma, together with different number of pre-amplification cycles, were tested to reach the best nCounter outcome. Differential expression analysis of circRNAs was performed, along with the testing of different machine learning (ML) methods for the development of a prognostic signature for LC. RESULTS: A combination of 500 μL of plasma input with 10 cycles of pre-amplification was selected for the rest of the study. Eight circRNAs were found upregulated in LC. Further ML analysis selected a 10-circRNA signature able to discriminate LC from controls with AUC ROC of 0.86. CONCLUSIONS: This study validates the use of the nCounter platform for multiplexed EV-circRNA expression studies in LC patient samples, allowing the development of prognostic signatures.

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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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