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Exosomes are secreted vesicles made intracellularly in the endosomal system. We have previously shown that exosomes are not only made in late endosomes, but also in recycling endosomes marked by the monomeric G-protein Rab11a. These vesicles, termed Rab11a-exosomes, are preferentially secreted under nutrient stress from several cancer cell types, including HCT116 colorectal cancer (CRC) cells. HCT116 Rab11a-exosomes have particularly potent signalling activities, some mediated by the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) ligand, amphiregulin (AREG). Mutant activating forms of KRAS, a downstream target of EGFR, are often found in advanced CRC. When absent, monoclonal antibodies, such as cetuximab, which target the EGFR and block the effects of EGFR ligands, such as AREG, can be administered. Patients, however, inevitably develop resistance to cetuximab, either by acquiring KRAS mutations or via non-genetic microenvironmental changes. Here we show that nutrient stress in several CRC cell lines causes the release of AREG-carrying Rab11a-exosomes. We demonstrate that while soluble AREG has no effect, much lower levels of AREG bound to Rab11a-exosomes from cetuximab-resistant KRAS-mutant HCT116 cells, can suppress the effects of cetuximab on KRAS-wild type Caco-2 CRC cells. Using neutralising anti-AREG antibodies and an intracellular EGFR kinase inhibitor, we show that this effect is mediated via AREG activation of EGFR, and not transfer of activated KRAS. Therefore, presentation of AREG on Rab11a-exosomes affects its ability to compete with cetuximab. We propose that this Rab11a-exosome-mediated mechanism contributes to the establishment of resistance in cetuximab-sensitive cells and may explain why in cetuximab-resistant tumours only some cells carry mutant KRAS.

Original publication




Journal article


J Extracell Vesicles

Publication Date





AREG, EGFR, Rab11a‐exosome, cetuximab, colorectal cancer, extracellular vesicle, Humans, Amphiregulin, Cetuximab, Exosomes, Colorectal Neoplasms, rab GTP-Binding Proteins, Drug Resistance, Neoplasm, ErbB Receptors, HCT116 Cells, Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological, Cell Line, Tumor, Stress, Physiological, Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras), Signal Transduction