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Phagocytosis of Extracellular Vesicles Extruded From the Placenta by Ovarian Cancer Cells Inhibits Growth of the Cancer Cells
  1. Qi Chen, PhD, MD*,,
  2. Victoria Rutten, BSc*,
  3. Wei-Tzu Cheng, BSc*,
  4. Mancy Tong, PhD*,
  5. Jia Wei, PhD, MD*,
  6. Peter Stone, MD*,
  7. Lai-Ming Ching, PhD* and
  8. Lawrence W. Chamley, PhD*
  1. * Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand; and
  2. The Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fudan University, Shanghai, China.
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Qi Chen, PhD, MD, The Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, 419 Fangxie Rd, Shanghai. E-mail: q.chen{at}


Objective Ovarian cancer is a common gynecological cancer, and parity is negatively associated with the incidence of this disease. This negative association is hypothesized to be due in part to shifting the balance of estrogen and progesterone toward more progesterone and reduced ovulation during pregnancy. However, studies suggested that parity is also associated with estrogen-independent gynecological cancers suggesting balance of hormones may not be the only protective factor. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) play an important role in cell-to-cell communication in physiological and pathological conditions. During pregnancy, large amounts of EVs are extruded from the placenta, and they seem to be involved in the remarkable adaptation of a woman's body to normal pregnancy. We hypothesized that EVs extruded from the placenta play a role in this protective effect.

Methods Placental EVs were collected from first-trimester placentae, and cancer cell EVs were isolated from ovarian cancer cells. The EVs were exposed to ovarian cancer cells for 48 hours. The proliferation of cancer cells and the cell cycle were measured. In addition, phagocytosis of deported placental EVs by cancer cells was also measured.

Results The proliferation of cancer cells was significantly reduced by treatment with placental EVs (P = 0.001, analysis of variance), but not EVs from monocytes (P = 0.195), compared with untreated cancer cells. Furthermore, placental EVs also prevented the proliferation of cancer cells induced by cancer cell–derived EVs (P = 0.001). This inhibition of proliferation of ovarian cancer cells was partially due to phagocytosis of placental EVs by cancer cells. Phagocytosis of placental EVs delayed progression through the cell cycle. Calreticulin, a phagocytic “eat me” signal carried by placental EVs significantly inhibited ovarian cancer growth (P = 0.001).

Conclusions Our data demonstrated that EVs extruded from the placenta prevented ovarian cancer cell growth by a mechanism that involved delaying progression of the cell cycle after phagocytosis of the EVs.

  • Pregnancy
  • Placenta
  • Extracellular vesicles
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Proliferation
  • Trophoblast
  • EVs - extracellular vesicles
  • FBS - fetal bovine serum
  • DAMP - damage-associated molecular pattern

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  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.