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Your Environment. Your Health.

Exosomes — Missing Link in Asbestos-Related Biological Effects

Arti Shukla, Ph.D.
University of Vermont

NIEHS grantees discovered that cells exposed to asbestos excrete exosomes with altered protein signatures, and these exosomes can alter cancer-related genes in mesothelial cells. Exosomes, which are small membrane-bound structures secreted by cells, have roles in cellular waste disposal, as well as in normal physiology and disease.

The researchers examined the effects of asbestos exposure in lung epithelial cells and macrophages, two types of cells that initially encounter inhaled asbestos fibers. They compared exposed and unexposed cells by examining the protein levels inside the exosomes that the cells released. They observed significantly different protein signatures in exosomes from the asbestos-exposed cells. They then added the exosomes from asbestos-exposed cells to healthy human mesothelial cells and measured dramatic changes in several cancer-related genes in the cells.

According to the authors, the genetic alterations may explain how asbestos exposure may lead to cancer. Importantly, the study also shows the potential of using protein profiles of exosomes as markers for the development or progression of asbestos-related disease.

Citation: Munson P, Lam YW, Dragon J, MacPherson M, Shukla A. 2018. Exosomes from asbestos-exposed cells modulate gene expression in mesothelial cells. FASEB J; doi: 10.1096/fj.201701291RR [Online 19 March 2018].

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