Separation of distinct exosome subpopulations: isolation and characterization approaches and their associated challenges
Exosomes are nano-sized extracellular vesicles that serve as a communications system between cells and have shown tremendous promise as liquid biopsy biomarkers in diagnostic, prognostic, and even therapeutic use in different human diseases. Due to the natural heterogeneity of exosomes, there is a need to separate exosomes into distinct biophysical and/or biochemical subpopulations to enable full interrogation of exosome biology and function prior to the possibility of clinical translation. Currently, there exists a multitude of different exosome isolation and characterization approaches which can, in limited capacity, separate exosomes based on biophysical and/or biochemical characteristics. While notable reviews in recent years have reviewed these approaches for bulk exosome sorting, we herein present a comprehensive overview of various conventional technologies and modern microfluidic and nanotechnological advancements towards isolation and characterization of exosome subpopulations. The benefits and limitations of these different technologies to improve their use for distinct exosome subpopulations in clinical practices are also discussed. Furthermore, an overview of the most commonly encountered technical and biological challenges for effective separation of exosome subpopulations is presented.