MSC surface markers (CD44, CD73, and CD90) can identify human MSC-derived extracellular vesicles by conventional flow cytometry

Teresa L. Ramos, Luis Ignacio Sánchez-Abarca, Sandra Muntión, Silvia Preciado, Noemí Puig, Guillermo López-Ruano, Ángel Hernández-Hernández, Alba Redondo, Rebeca Ortega, Concepción Rodríguez, Fermín Sánchez-Guijo*, Consuelo Del Cañizo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

206 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Human mesenchymal stromal cells (hMSC) are multipotent cells with both regenerative and immunomodulatory activities making them an attractive tool for cellular therapy. In the last few years it has been shown that the beneficial effects of hMSC may be due to paracrine effects and, at least in part, mediated by extracellular vesicles (EV). EV have emerged as important mediators of cell-to-cell communication. Flow cytometry (FCM) is a routine technology used in most clinical laboratories and could be used as a methodology for hMSC-EV characterization. Although several reports have characterized EV by FCM, a specific panel and protocol for hMSC-derived EV is lacking. The main objective of our study was the characterization of hMSC-EV using a standard flow cytometer. Methods: Human MSC from bone marrow of healthy donors, mesenchymal cell lines (HS-5 and hTERT) and a leukemic cell line (K562 cells) were used to obtain EV for FCM characterization. EV released from the different cell lines were isolated by ultracentrifugation and were characterized, using a multi-parametric analysis, in a conventional flow cytometer. EV characterization by transmission electron microscopy (TEM), western blot (WB) and Nano-particle tracking analysis (NTA) was also performed. Results: EV membranes are constituted by the combination of specific cell surface molecules depending on their cell of origin, together with specific proteins like tetraspanins (e.g. CD63). We have characterized by FCM the EV released from BM-hMSC, that were defined as particles less than 0.9 μm, positive for the hMSC markers (CD90, CD44 and CD73) and negative for CD34 and CD45 (hematopoietic markers). In addition, hMSC-derived EV were also positive for CD63 and CD81, the two characteristic markers of EV. To validate our characterization strategy, EV from mesenchymal cell lines (hTERT/HS-5) were also studied, using the leukemia cell line (K562) as a negative control. EV released from mesenchymal cell lines displayed the same immunophenotypic profile as the EV from primary BM-hMSC, while the EV derived from K562 cells did not show hMSC markers. We further validated the panel using EV from hMSC transduced with GFP. Finally, EV derived from the different sources (hMSC, hTERT/HS-5 and K562) were also characterized by WB, TEM and NTA, demonstrating the expression by WB of the exosomal markers CD63 and CD81, as well as CD73 in those from MSC origin. EV morphology and size/concentration was confirmed by TEM and NTA, respectively. Conclusion: We described a strategy that allows the identification and characterization by flow cytometry of hMSC-derived EV that can be routinely used in most laboratories with a standard flow cytometry facility.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalCell Communication and Signaling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Extracellular vesicles characterization
  • Flow cytometry
  • Mesenchymal stromal cells


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