Neurophotonics, vol.9, no.2, 2022 (SCI-Expanded)
© The Authors. Published by SPIE under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Distribution or reproduction of this work in whole or in part requires full attribution of the original publication, including its DOI.Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are nanoparticles (30 to 1000 nm in diameter) surrounded by a lipid-bilayer which carry bioactive molecules between local and distal cells and participate in intercellular communication. Because of their small size and heterogenous nature they are challenging to characterize. Here, we discuss commonly used techniques that have been employed to yield information about EV size, concentration, mechanical properties, and protein content. These include dynamic light scattering, nanoparticle tracking analysis, flow cytometry, transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, western blotting, and optical methods including super-resolution microscopy. We also introduce an innovative technique for EV characterization which involves immobilizing EVs on a microscope slide before staining them with antibodies targeting EV proteins, then using the reflectance mode on a confocal microscope to locate the EV plane. By then switching to the microscope's fluorescence mode, immunostained EVs bearing specific proteins can be identified and the heterogeneity of an EV preparation can be determined. This approach does not require specialist equipment beyond the confocal microscopes that are available in many cell biology laboratories, and because of this, it could become a complementary approach alongside the aforementioned techniques to identify molecular heterogeneity in an EV preparation before subsequent analysis requiring specialist apparatus.