The discovery and utility of clinically relevant circulating biomarkers depend on standardized methods that minimize preanalytical errors. Despite growing interest in studying extracellular vesicles (EVs) and cell-free messenger RNA (cf-mRNA) as potential biomarkers, how blood processing and freeze/thaw impacts the profiles of these analytes in plasma was not thoroughly understood. We utilized flow cytometric analysis to examine the effect of differential centrifugation and a freeze/thaw cycle on EV profiles. Utilizing flow cytometry postacquisition analysis software (FCMpass) to calibrate light scattering and fluorescence, we revealed how differential centrifugation and post-freeze/thaw processing removes and retains EV subpopulations. Additionally, cf-mRNA levels measured by RT-qPCR profiles from a panel of housekeeping, platelet, and tissue-specific genes were preferentially affected by differential centrifugation and post-freeze/thaw processing. Critically, freezing plasma containing residual platelets yielded irreversible ex vivo generation of EV subpopulations and cf-mRNA transcripts, which were not removable by additional processing after freeze/thaw. Our findings suggest the importance of minimizing confounding variation attributed to plasma processing and platelet contamination.
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