Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences

First Advisor

Arti Shukla

Second Advisor

Raju Badireddy


Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a locally invasive and highly aggressive cancer arising on the mesothelial surface of organ cavities (mainly pleural) as a direct result of asbestos exposure. The latency period of MM is long (20-50yrs) after initial asbestos exposure, and the prognostic outcomes are dismal with median life expectancy of 6-12 months post-diagnosis. There are no useful biomarkers for early MM diagnosis, no successful therapeutic interventions. These vast voids of knowledge led to our hypotheses that secreted vesicles, termed exosomes, play an important role in MM development and tumorigenic properties. Exosomes are nano-sized particles secreted from all cell types and carry biologically active cargo in the form of proteins, RNA, and lipids that can potently act as intercellular messengers in both healthy settings and disease states. We are the first to have conducted studies implicating the roles of exosomes in MM pathogenesis.

Firstly, we analyzed the proteomic signature of exosomes from asbestos exposure models, in vitro and in vivo. Our in vitro data demonstrated that asbestos exposed lung epithelial cells and macrophages secrete exosomes with differentially abundant proteins compared to non-exposed controls and some of these proteins are relevant to asbestos exposure toxicology and MM development. Additionally, the exosomes from asbestos exposed cells significantly modulated the gene expression of target mesothelial cells in a way that reflected epithelial to mesenchymal transition and other tumorigenic properties. The in vivo mouse studies illustrated that mouse serum exosomes house differentially abundant proteins after asbestos exposure and this is measurable at an organism wide scale.

Secondly, we assayed the miRNA composition of MM tumor exosomes compared to healthy mesothelial cell exosomes and found signature differences in miRNA abundances, particularly that MM tumor cells had significantly higher amounts of tumor suppressor miRNA, particularly miR-16-5p, in their exosomes. This led to the hypothesis that MM tumor cells preferentially secrete tumor suppressor miRNAs via exosomes to rid themselves of the anti-tumor effects. We employed exosomes secretion inhibitors and exosome force-feeding to demonstrate that MM cells do in fact secrete miR-16-5p (along with other tumor suppressor miRNAs) through exosomes and that this property can be targeted as a potentially novel therapeutic advance. Furthermore, we identified a mechanism of miR-16-5p loading into exosomes by the RNA binding protein HuR, and this mechanism is interestingly regulated by miR-16-5p itself in a negative feedback loop.

Our studies thus far provide intriguing evidence on the role of exosomes in asbestos exposure and MM biology. We demonstrated the potential for exosomes as protein biomarkers in asbestos exposure and conduits of tumorigenic information to mesothelial cells. In addition, we incriminate exosomes as vehicles of tumor suppressor removal from MM tumor cells and we can target this as a potential n MM therapy.



Number of Pages

234 p.