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Endothelial barrier formation is maintained by intercellular communication through junctional proteins. The mechanisms involved in maintaining endothelial communication subsequent to barrier disruption remain unclear. It is known that low numbers of endothelial cells can be interconnected by homotypic actin-driven tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) which could be important for intercellular transfer of information in vascular physiology. Here we sought insight into the triggers for TNT formation. Wheat germ agglutinin, a C-type lectin and known label for TNTs, unexpectedly caused striking induction of TNTs. A succinylated derivative was by contrast inactive, suggesting mediation by a sialylated protein. Through siRNA-mediated knockdown we identified that this protein was likely to be CD31, an important sialylated membrane protein normally at endothelial cell junctions. We subsequently considered thrombin as a physiological inducer of endothelial TNTs because it reduces junctional contact. Thrombin reduced junctional contact, redistributed CD31 and induced TNTs, but its effect on TNTs was CD31-independent. Thrombin-induced TNTs nevertheless required PKCĪ±, a known mediator of thrombin-dependent junctional remodelling, suggesting a necessity for junctional proteins in TNT formation. Indeed, TNT-inducing effects of wheat germ agglutinin and thrombin were both correlated with cortical actin rearrangement and similarly Ca2+-dependent, suggesting common underlying mechanisms. Once formed, Ca2+ signalling along TNTs was observed.


Lucia Pedicini, Katarina T Miteva, Verity Hawley, Hannah J Gaunt, Hollie L Appleby, Richard M Cubbon, Katarzyna Marszalek, Mark T Kearney, David J Beech, Lynn McKeown. Homotypic endothelial nanotubes induced by wheat germ agglutinin and thrombin. Scientific reports. 2018 May 15;8(1):7569

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PMID: 29765077

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