Label-free nonlinear optical signatures of extracellular vesicles in liquid and tissue biopsies of human breast cancer

Janet E. Sorrells, Jaena Park, Edita Aksamitiene, Marina Marjanovic, Elisabeth M. Martin, Eric J. Chaney, Anna M. Higham, Kimberly A. Cradock, Zheng G. Liu, Stephen A. Boppart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have been implicated in metastasis and proposed as cancer biomarkers. However, heterogeneity and small size makes assessments of EVs challenging. Often, EVs are isolated from biofluids, losing spatial and temporal context and thus lacking the ability to access EVs in situ in their native microenvironment. This work examines the capabilities of label-free nonlinear optical microscopy to extract biochemical optical metrics of EVs in ex vivo tissue and EVs isolated from biofluids in cases of human breast cancer, comparing these metrics within and between EV sources. Before surgery, fresh urine and blood serum samples were obtained from human participants scheduled for breast tumor surgery (24 malignant, 6 benign) or healthy participants scheduled for breast reduction surgery (4 control). EVs were directly imaged both in intact ex vivo tissue that was removed during surgery and in samples isolated from biofluids by differential ultracentrifugation. Isolated EVs and freshly excised ex vivo breast tissue samples were imaged with custom nonlinear optical microscopes to extract single-EV optical metabolic signatures of NAD(P)H and FAD autofluorescence. Optical metrics were significantly altered in cases of malignant breast cancer in biofluid-derived EVs and intact tissue EVs compared to control samples. Specifically, urinary isolated EVs showed elevated NAD(P)H fluorescence lifetime in cases of malignant cancer, serum-derived isolated EVs showed decreased optical redox ratio in stage II cancer, but not earlier stages, and ex vivo breast tissue showed an elevated number of EVs in cases of malignant cancer. Results further indicated significant differences in the measured optical metabolic signature based on EV source (urine, serum and tissue) within individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5528
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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