The elusive complexity of membranous extracellular vesicle (EVs) and membrane-less extracellular particle (EPs) populations released from various cellular sources contains clues as to their biological functions and diagnostic utility. In this study, we employed optimized multicolor nano-flow cytometry, structured illumination (SIM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to bridge sensitive detection at the single EV/EP level and high through-put analysis of cancer cell secretomes. We applied these approaches to particles released from intact cells driven by several different transforming mechanisms, or to cells under therapeutic stress imposed by pharmacological inhibition of their oncogenic drivers, such as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). We demonstrate a highly heterogeneous distribution of biologically relevant elements of the EV/EP cargo, including oncoproteins (EGFR), clotting factors (tissue factor), pro-metastatic integrins (ITGA6, ITGA4), tetraspanins (CD63) and genomic DNA across the entire particulate secretome of cancer cells. We observed that targeting EGFR activity with irreversible kinase inhibitors (dacomitinib) triggers emission of DNA containing EP/EV subpopulations, including particles (chromatimeres) harboring both EGFR and DNase-resistant chromatin. While nano-flow cytometry enables quantification of these changes across the entire particular secretome, SIM reveals individual molecular topography of EV/EP subsets and AFM exposes some of their physical properties, including the presence of nanofilaments and other substructures. We describe differential uptake rates of distinct EV subsets, resulting in preferential internalization of exosome-like small EVs by cancer cells to the exclusion of larger EVs. Thus, our study illustrates the potential of nano-flow cytometry coupled with high resolution microscopy to explore the cancer-related EV/EP landscape.
KEYWORDS: exosomes, ectosomes, extracellular DNA, single particles, nano- flow cytometry,