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    Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are F-actin-based membrane tubes that form between cells in culture and in tissues. They mediate intercellular communication ranging from electrical signalling to the transfer of organelles. Here, we studied the role of TNTs in the interaction between apoptotic and healthy cells. We found that pheochromocytoma (PC) 12 cells treated with ultraviolet light (UV) were rescued when cocultured with untreated PC12 cells. UV-treated cells formed a different type of TNT with untreated PC12 cells, which was characterized by continuous microtubule localized inside these TNTs. The dynamic behaviour of mCherry-tagged end-binding protein 3 and the accumulation of detyrosinated tubulin in these TNTs indicate that they are regulated structures. In addition, these TNTs show different biophysical properties, for example, increased diameter allowing dye entry, prolonged lifetime and decreased membrane fluidity. Further studies demonstrated that microtubule-containing TNTs were formed by stressed cells, which had lost cytochrome c but did not enter into the execution phase of apoptosis characterized by caspase-3 activation. Moreover, mitochondria colocalized with microtubules in TNTs and transited along these structures from healthy to stressed cells. Importantly, impaired formation of TNTs and untreated cells carrying defective mitochondria were unable to rescue UV-treated cells in the coculture. We conclude that TNT-mediated transfer of functional mitochondria reverse stressed cells in the early stages of apoptosis. This provides new insights into the survival mechanisms of damaged cells in a multicellular context.


    X Wang, H-H Gerdes. Transfer of mitochondria via tunneling nanotubes rescues apoptotic PC12 cells. Cell death and differentiation. 2015 Jul;22(7):1181-91

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    PMID: 25571977

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