Detection and quantification of extracellular vesicles via FACS: Membrane labeling matters!

Fanny Ender*, Piet Zamzow, Nikolas von Bubnoff, Frank Gieseler

*Corresponding author for this work
6 Citations (Scopus)


The field of extracellular vesicle (EV) research is challenged by the lack of standardized protocols to identify and specifically distinguish between exosomes and ectosomes, which are released via exocytosis or plasma membrane shedding, respectively. Using sequential centrifugation, we separated EV subpopulations from supernatants of COLO 357 pancreas carcinoma cells based on size and mass. After 10,000× g centrifugation, we reconstituted high-speed (hs) EVs from the pellet, directly labeled them with the membrane dye carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester (CFSE), and performed flow cytometry based analysis. The aim was to optimize the conditions for EV labeling and detection and hence to obtain a maximum yield of intact hsEVs. We found that, for sufficient labeling of EVs, minimal temperature variations and short incubation times correlated with EV stability. Furthermore, threshold adjustment significantly improved the sensitivity of the flow cytometer for the detection of CFSE labeled hsEVs. When cells were CFSE labeled, we observed a transition of fluorescence onto EVs that were reconstituted from the pellet but not onto those that remained in the supernatant after hs centrifugation, suggesting the indirect labeling of EVs based on the way of biogenesis as a specific method for the distinction of exosomes and ectosomes. Protocol standardization is of major importance for the use of EVs as diagnostic markers in liquid biopsies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number291
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2020


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