Extracellular vesicles in liver disease and potential as biomarkers and therapeutic targets

Key Points

  • Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are secreted by various liver cell types to the extracellular space and circulation

  • Coated with a lipid bilayer, EV cargo contains proteins, lipids and nucleic acids

  • The EV cargo represents a snapshot of the parental cell at the time of release; cargo can change depending on the stimulation status and/or differentiation stage of the cell

  • EVs are explored as biomarkers of disease and might also represent therapeutic targets and vehicles for therapeutic delivery

  • EVs can interact with different cells in the liver through specific receptors and cellular uptake

  • Increased levels of circulating EVs have been found in alcoholic liver disease, NASH, viral hepatitis, drug-induced liver injury and hepatocellular carcinoma

Abstract

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are membranous vesicles originating from different cells in the liver. The pathophysiological role of EVs is increasingly recognized in liver diseases, including alcoholic liver disease, NAFLD, viral hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma. EVs, via their cargo, can provide communication between different cell types in the liver and between organs. EVs are explored as biomarkers of disease and could also represent therapeutic targets and vehicles for treatment delivery. Here, we review advances in understanding the role of EVs in liver diseases and discuss their utility in biomarker discovery and therapeutics.

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Figure 1: Extracellular vesicle biogenesis and release.
Figure 2: Exosome composition.
Figure 3: Extracellular vesicle biogenesis and functional role in liver physiology and pathology.
Figure 4: Role of exosomes in the pathogenesis of alcoholic hepatitis.
Figure 5: Exosomes for delivery of RNA interference therapeutics.

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Acknowledgements

G.S. is supported by UO1 translational (AA021907/103) and UO1 clinical AA021893-03 grants.

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Correspondence to Gyongyi Szabo.

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Szabo, G., Momen-Heravi, F. Extracellular vesicles in liver disease and potential as biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 14, 455–466 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrgastro.2017.71

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