FLIM reveals alternative EV-mediated cellular up-take pathways of paclitaxel

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In response to physiological and artificial stimuli, cells generate nano-scale extracellular vesicles (EVs) by encapsulating biomolecules in plasma membrane-derived phospholipid envelopes. These vesicles are released to bodily fluids, hence acting as powerful endogenous mediators in intercellular signaling. EVs provide a compelling alternative for biomarker discovery and targeted drug delivery, but their kinetics and dynamics while interacting with living cells are poorly understood. Here we introduce a novel method, fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) to investigate these interaction attributes. By FLIM, we show distinct cellular uptake mechanisms of different EV subtypes, exosomes and microvesicles, loaded with anti-cancer agent, paclitaxel. We demonstrate differences in intracellular behavior and drug release profiles of paclitaxel-containing EVs. Exosomes seem to deliver the drug mostly by endocytosis while microvesicles enter the cells by both endocytosis and fusion with cell membrane. This research offers a new real-time method to investigate EV kinetics with living cells, and it is a potential advancement to complement the existing techniques. The findings of this study improve the current knowledge in exploiting EVs as next-generation targeted drug delivery systems.Graphical abstractHighlightsA single probe reveals more when instead fluorescence intensity its lifetime is usedThree different steps of drug delivery process can be recognized for the FLIM dataUp-take pathways of extracellular vesicle subpopulations are distinguished with FLIMExosomes deliver the drug mainly by endocytosisMicrovesicles deliver the drug by both endocytosis and cell membrane fusion

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