Acidic microenvironment plays a key role in human melanoma progression through a sustained exosome mediated transfer of clinically relevant metastatic molecules

Zaira Boussadia, Jessica Lamberti, Fabrizio Mattei, Elisabetta Pizzi, Rossella Puglisi, Cristiana Zanetti, Luca Pasquini, Federica Fratini, Luca Fantozzi, Federica Felicetti, Katia Fecchi, Carla Raggi, Massimo Sanchez, Stefania D'Atri, Alessandra Carè, Massimo Sargiacomo, Isabella Parolini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Microenvironment cues involved in melanoma progression are largely unknown. Melanoma is highly influenced in its aggressive phenotype by the changes it determinates in its microenvironment, such as pH decrease, in turn influencing cancer cell invasiveness, progression and tissue remodelling through an abundant secretion of exosomes, dictating cancer strategy to the whole host. A role of exosomes in driving melanoma progression under microenvironmental acidity was never described. Methods: We studied four differently staged human melanoma lines, reflecting melanoma progression, under microenvironmental acidic pHs pressure ranging between pH 6.0-6.7. To estimate exosome secretion as a function of tumor stage and environmental pH, we applied a technique to generate native fluorescent exosomes characterized by vesicles integrity, size, density, markers expression, and quantifiable by direct FACS analysis. Functional roles of exosomes were tested in migration and invasion tests. Then we performed a comparative proteomic analysis of acid versus control exosomes to elucidate a specific signature involved in melanoma progression. Results: We found that metastatic melanoma secretes a higher exosome amount than primary melanoma, and that acidic pH increases exosome secretion when melanoma is in an intermediate stage, i.e. metastatic non-invasive. We were thus able to show that acidic pH influences the intercellular cross-talk mediated by exosomes. In fact when exposed to exosomes produced in an acidic medium, pH naïve melanoma cells acquire migratory and invasive capacities likely due to transfer of metastatic exosomal proteins, favoring cell motility and angiogenesis. A Prognoscan-based meta-analysis study of proteins enriched in acidic exosomes, identified 11 genes (HRAS, GANAB, CFL2, HSP90B1, HSP90AB1, GSN, HSPA1L, NRAS, HSPA5, TIMP3, HYOU1), significantly correlating with poor prognosis, whose high expression was in part confirmed in bioptic samples of lymph node metastases. Conclusions: A crucial step of melanoma progression does occur at melanoma intermediate -stage, when extracellular acidic pH induces an abundant release and intra-tumoral uptake of exosomes. Such exosomes are endowed with pro-invasive molecules of clinical relevance, which may provide a signature of melanoma advancement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number245
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 5 2018


  • Exosomes
  • Melanoma progression
  • Microenvironmental acidic pH
  • Tumor stage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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