Robust protocols for the isolation of extracellular vesicles (EVs) from the rest of their excretory-secretory products are necessary for downstream studies and application development. The most widely used purification method of EVs for helminth pathogens is currently differential centrifugation (DC). In contrast, size exclusion chromatography (SEC) has been included in the purification pipeline for EVs from other pathogens, highlighting there is not an agreed research community ‘gold standard’ for EV isolation. In this case study, Fasciola hepatica from natural populations were cultured in order to collect EVs from culture media and evaluate a SEC or DC approach to pathogen helminth EV purification.
Transmission electron and atomic force microscopy demonstrated that EVs prepared by SEC were both smaller in size and less diverse than EV resolved by DC. Protein quantification and Western blotting further demonstrated that SEC purification realised a higher EV purity to free excretory-secretory protein (ESP) yield ratio compared to DC approaches as evident by the reduction of soluble free cathepsin L proteases in SEC EV preparations. Proteomic analysis further highlighted DC contamination from ESP as shown by an increased diversity of protein identifications and unique peptide hits in DC EVs as compared to SEC EVs. In addition, SEC purified EVs contained less tegumental based proteins than DC purified EVs.
The data suggests that DC and SEC purification methods do not isolate equivalent EV population profiles and caution should be taken in the choice of EV purification utilised, with certain protocols for DC preparations including more free ES proteins and tegumental artefacts. We propose that SEC methods should be used for EV purification prior to downstream studies.