Exosomes are key mediators of cell-to-cell communication involved in different aspects of the response to ionizing radiation. The functional role of exosomes depends on their molecular cargo, including protein and miRNA content. In this work, we compared the miRNA profile of cells exposed to a high-dose of radiation and the exosomes released by those cells. FaDu cells (derived from human head and neck cancer) were exposed to 2 and 8 Gy doses, exosomes were purified from culture media at 36 h postirradiation using a combination of differential centrifugation, ultrafiltration and precipitation, then microRNA was analyzed using the RNA-seq approach. There were 439 miRNA species quantified, and significant differences in their relative abundance were observed between the cells and exosomes; several low-abundance miRNAs were over-represented while high-abundance miRNA were under-represented in exosomes. There were a few miRNA species markedly affected in irradiated cells and in exosomes released by these cells. However, markedly different radiation-induced effects were observed in both miRNA sets, which could be exemplified by miR-3168 significantly downregulated in cells and upregulated in exosomes. On the other hand, both 2 and 8 Gy radiation doses induced similar effects. Radiation-affected miRNA species present in exosomes are linked to genes involved in the DNA damage and cytokine-mediated response, which may suggest their hypothetical role in the exosome-mediated radiation-induced bystander effect reported elsewhere.

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