Membrane nanotube

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Not to be confused with nanotube membrane.
A High resolution 3D live-cell fluorescence image of a NT (white arrow) connecting two primary mesothelial cells one hour after plating on a collagen I coated glass cover slide. To facilitate detection, cell membranes were stained with WGA Alexa Fluor® 488. Scale bar: 20 µm.
BDepiction of a NT (black arrow) between two cells with scanning electron microscopy one hour after cell plating. Scale bar: 10 µm.
C F-actin staining by fluorescently labeled phalloidin showing actin being present in NTs between individual HPMCs (white arrow). Scale bar: 20 µm.
D Scanning electron microscope picture of a substrate-associated filopodia-like extension as potential NT precursor (black arrowhead). The insert shows a fluorescence microscopic image of substrate associated filopodia-like protrusions approaching a neighboring cell (white arrowhead). Scale bar: 2 µm.

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.[1][2] 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.[3]

These structures may be involved in cell-to-cell communication,[4] transfer of nucleic acids between cells in a tissue,[5] and the spread of pathogens or toxins such as HIV[1] and prions.[6] Membrane nanotubes were first described in a 1999 Cell article examining the development of Drosophila melanogaster wing imaginal discs.[7] 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.[8][9]

Similar structures, called plasmodesmata, interconnect plant cells[10] and stromules interconnect plastids.[11]

Vesicular transport in membrane nanotubes has been modeled utilizing a continuum approach.[12]


  1. ^ a b Sowinski S; Jolly C; Berninghausen O et al. (February 2008). "Membrane nanotubes physically connect T cells over long distances presenting a novel route for HIV-1 transmission". Nat. Cell Biol. 10 (2): 211–9. doi:10.1038/ncb1682. PMID 18193035. 
  2. ^ Davis DM, Sowinski S (June 2008). "Membrane nanotubes: dynamic long-distance connections between animal cells". Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 9 (6): 431–6. doi:10.1038/nrm2399. PMID 18431401. 
  3. ^ Onfelt B; Nedvetzki S; Benninger RK et al. (December 2006). "Structurally distinct membrane nanotubes between human macrophages support long-distance vesicular traffic or surfing of bacteria". J. Immunol. 177 (12): 8476–83. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.177.12.8476. PMID 17142745. 
  4. ^ Onfelt B, Davis DM (November 2004). "Can membrane nanotubes facilitate communication between immune cells?". Biochem. Soc. Trans. 32 (Pt 5): 676–8. doi:10.1042/BST0320676. PMID 15493985. 
  5. ^ Belting M, Wittrup A (December 2008). "Nanotubes, exosomes, and nucleic acid–binding peptides provide novel mechanisms of intercellular communication in eukaryotic cells: implications in health and disease". J. Cell Biol. 183 (7): 1187–91. doi:10.1083/jcb.200810038. PMC 2606965. PMID 19103810. 
  6. ^ Gousset K; Schiff E; Langevin C et al. (February 2009). "Prions hijack tunnelling nanotubes for intercellular spread". Nat. Cell Biol. 11 (3): 328–36. doi:10.1038/ncb1841. PMID 19198598. 
  7. ^ Ramírez-Weber FA, Kornberg TB (May 1999). "Cytonemes: cellular processes that project to the principal signaling center in Drosophila imaginal discs". Cell 97 (5): 599–607. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)80771-0. PMID 10367889. 
  8. ^ Onfelt B, Nedvetzki S, Yanagi K, Davis DM (1 August 2004). "Cutting edge: Membrane nanotubes connect immune cells". J. Immunol. 173 (3): 1511–3. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.173.3.1511. PMID 15265877. 
  9. ^ Rustom A, Saffrich R, Markovic I, Walther P, Gerdes HH (February 2004). "Nanotubular highways for intercellular organelle transport". Science 303 (5660): 1007–10. Bibcode:2004Sci...303.1007R. doi:10.1126/science.1093133. PMID 14963329. 
  10. ^ Gallagher KL, Benfey PN (January 2005). "Not just another hole in the wall: understanding intercellular protein trafficking". Genes Dev. 19 (2): 189–95. doi:10.1101/gad.1271005. PMID 15655108. 
  11. ^ Köhler RH, Cao J, Zipfel WR, Webb WW, Hanson MR (1997). "Exchange of protein molecules through connections between higher plant plastids". Science 276: 1039–1042. doi:10.1126/science.276.5321.2039. PMID 9197266. 
  12. ^ Kuznetsov, A.V. (2011). "Modeling bidirectional transport of quantum dot nanoparticles in membrane nanotubes". Mathematical Biosciences 232 (2): 101–109. doi:10.1016/j.mbs.2011.04.008. 

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