Exosomes derived from mesenchymal non-small cell lung cancer cells promote chemoresistance

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Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common lung cancer type and the most common cause of mortality in lung cancer patients. NSCLC is often associated with resistance to chemotherapeutics and together with rapid metastatic spread, results in limited treatment options and poor patient survival. NSCLCs are heterogeneous, and consist of epithelial and mesenchymal NSCLC cells. Mesenchymal NSCLC cells are thought to be responsible for the chemoresistance phenotype, but if and how this phenotype can be transferred to other NSCLC cells is currently not known. We hypothesised that small extracellular vesicles, exosomes, secreted by mesenchymal NSCLC cells could potentially transfer the chemoresistance phenotype to surrounding epithelial NSCLC cells. To explore this possibility, we used a unique human bronchial epithelial cell (HBEC) model in which the parental cells were transformed from an epithelial to mesenchymal phenotype by introducing oncogenic alterations common in NSCLC. We found that exosomes derived from the oncogenically transformed, mesenchymal HBECs could transfer chemoresistance to the parental, epithelial HBECs and increaseZEB1mRNA, a master EMT transcription factor, in the recipient cells. Additionally, we demonstrate that exosomes from mesenchymal, but not epithelial HBECs contain theZEB1mRNA, thereby providing a potential mechanism for the induction of a mesenchymal phenotype in recipient cells. Together, this work demonstrates for the first time that exosomes derived from mesenchymal, oncogenically transformed lung cells can transfer chemoresistance and mesenchymal phenotypes to recipient cells, likely via the transfer ofZEB1mRNA in exosomes.

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