Membrane nanotubes, membrane nanotubules or cytoneme are long and thin tubes formed from the plasma membrane that connect different animal cells over long distances, and could sometimes extend for over 100 μm between T cells. Two types of nanotubes have been observed. The first type are less than 0.7 micrometres in diameter, contain actin and carry portions of plasma membrane between cells in both directions. The second type are larger (>0.7 μm), contain both actin and microtubules and can carry components of the cytoplasm between cells, such as vesicles and organelles.
These structures may be involved in cell-to-cell communication, transfer of nucleic acids between cells in a tissue, and the spread of pathogens or toxins such as HIV and prions. Membrane nanotubes were first described in a 1999 Cell article examining the development of Drosophila melanogaster wing imaginal discs. More recently, a Science article published in 2004 described structures that connected various types of immune cell together, as well as connections between cells in tissue culture.
Vesicular transport in membrane nanotubes has been modeled utilizing a continuum approach.
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- Hans-Hermann Gerdes Research Group - The laboratory that first observed membrane nanotubes
- <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.>. "Tunnelling nanotubes: Life's secret network". New Scientist November 2008.
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