Theranostic extracellular vesicles: a concise review of current imaging technologies and labeling strategies

Safiya Aafreen, Jonathan Feng, Wenshen Wang, Guanshu Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Extracellular vesicles (EVs), or exosomes, are naturally occurring nano-and micro-sized membrane vesicles playing an essential role in cell-to-cell communication. There is a recent increasing interest in harnessing the therapeutic potential of these natural nanoparticles to develop cell-free regenerative medicine and manufacture highly biocompatible and targeted drug and gene delivery vectors, amongst other applications. In the context of developing novel and effective EV-based therapy, imaging tools are of paramount importance as they can be used to not only elucidate the underlying mechanisms but also provide the basis for optimization and clinical translation. In this review, recent efforts and knowledge advances on EV-based therapies have been briefly introduced, followed by an outline of currently available labeling strategies by which EVs can be conjugated with various imaging agents and/or therapeutic drugs and genes. A comprehensive review of prevailing EV imaging technologies is then presented along with examples and applications, with emphasis on imaging probes and agents, corresponding labeling methods, and the pros and cons of each imaging modality. Finally, the potential of theranostic EVs as a powerful new weapon in the arsenal of regenerative medicine and nanomedicine is summarized and envisioned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-132
Number of pages26
JournalExtracellular Vesicles and Circulating Nucleic Acids
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • Extracellular vesicles
  • cell-free regenerative medicine
  • exosomes
  • molecular imaging
  • theranostics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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