Extracellular Vesicle Proteins and MicroRNAs as Biomarkers for Traumatic Brain Injury

Vivian A. Guedes, Christina Devoto, Jacqueline Leete, Delia Sass, Jedidiah D. Acott, Sara Mithani, Jessica M. Gill

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a heterogeneous condition, associated with diverse etiologies, clinical presentations and degrees of severity, and may result in chronic neurobehavioral sequelae. The field of TBI biomarkers is rapidly evolving to address the many facets of TBI pathology and improve its clinical management. Recent years have witnessed a marked increase in the number of publications and interest in the role of extracellular vesicles (EVs), which include exosomes, cell signaling, immune responses, and as biomarkers in a number of pathologies. Exosomes have a well-defined lipid bilayer with surface markers that reflect the cell of origin and an aqueous core that contains a variety of biological material including proteins (e.g., cytokines and growth factors) and nucleic acids (e.g., microRNAs). The presence of proteins associated with neurodegenerative changes such as amyloid-β, α-synuclein and phosphorylated tau in exosomes suggests a role in the initiation and propagation of neurological diseases. However, mechanisms of cell communication involving exosomes in the brain and their role in TBI pathology are poorly understood. Exosomes are promising TBI biomarkers as they can cross the blood-brain barrier and can be isolated from peripheral fluids, including serum, saliva, sweat, and urine. Exosomal content is protected from enzymatic degradation by exosome membranes and reflects the internal environment of their cell of origin, offering insights into tissue-specific pathological processes. Challenges in the clinical use of exosomal cargo as biomarkers include difficulty in isolating pure exosomes, variable yields of the isolation processes, quantification of vesicles, and lack of specificity of exosomal markers. Moreover, there is no consensus regarding nomenclature and characteristics of EV subtypes. In this review, we discuss current technical limitations and challenges of using exosomes and other EVs as blood-based biomarkers, highlighting their potential as diagnostic and prognostic tools in TBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number663
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
StatePublished - Jul 16 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • concussion
  • exosomes
  • extracellular vesicles
  • neurodegeneration
  • neuroinflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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