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Ross C. Puffer, Luz M. Cumba Garcia, Benjamin T. Himes, Mi-Yeon Jung, Frederic B. Meyer, David O. Okonkwo and Ian F. Parney


The objective of this study was to isolate extracellular vesicles (EVs) from plasma in a cohort of patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and analyze their contents for novel biomarkers that could prove useful for rapid diagnosis and classification of brain injury during initial evaluation.


Plasma EVs were isolated by serial ultracentrifugation from patients with TBI (n = 15) and healthy controls (n = 5). Samples were obtained from the TRACK-TBI biorepository (2010–present). Size and concentration were determined by nanoparticle tracking. Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) concentration was determined in EV protein. EV RNA was isolated and deep sequencing of short noncoding RNA was performed.


Plasma EVs are physically similar but contained approximately 10 times more GFAP in TBI patients with altered consciousness than patients and controls with normal consciousness. Eleven highly differentially expressed microRNAs (miRNAs) were identified between these groups. Genes targeted by these miRNAs are highly associated with biologically relevant cellular pathways, including organismal injury, cellular development, and organismal development. Multiple additional coding and noncoding RNA species with potential biomarker utility were identified.


Isolating plasma EVs in patients with TBI is feasible. Increased GFAP concentration—a validated plasma TBI marker—in EVs from TBI patients with altered consciousness, along with differential expression of multiple miRNAs targeting TBI-relevant pathways, suggests that EVs may be a useful source of TBI biomarkers. Additional evaluation in larger patient cohorts is indicated.