Cell communication by tunneling nanotubes: Implications in disease and therapeutic applications

Rahul Mittal, Elisa Karhu, Jay Shing Wang, Stefanie Delgado, Ryan Zukerman, Jeenu Mittal, Vasanti M. Jhaveri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Intercellular communication is essential for the development and maintenance of multicellular organisms. Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are a recently recognized means of long and short distance communication between a wide variety of cell types. TNTs are transient filamentous membrane protrusions that connect cytoplasm of neighboring or distant cells. Cytoskeleton fiber-mediated transport of various cargoes occurs through these tubules. These cargoes range from small ions to whole organelles. TNTs have been shown to contribute not only to embryonic development and maintenance of homeostasis, but also to the spread of infectious particles and resistance to therapies. These functions in the development and progression of cancer and infectious disease have sparked increasing scrutiny of TNTs, as their contribution to disease progression lends them a promising therapeutic target. Herein, we summarize the current knowledge of TNT structure and formation as well as the role of TNTs in pathology, focusing on viral, prion, and malignant disease. We then discuss the therapeutic possibilities of TNTs in light of their varied functions. Despite recent progress in the growing field of TNT research, more studies are needed to precisely understand the role of TNTs in pathological conditions and to develop novel therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1130-1146
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • cargoes
  • cytoskeleton
  • membrane protrusions
  • tunneling nanotubes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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