The cell biology of cell-in-cell structures

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2008 Oct;9(10):796-809. doi: 10.1038/nrm2504. Epub 2008 Sep 11.


For decades, authors have described unusual cell structures, referred to as cell-in-cell structures, in which whole cells are found in the cytoplasm of other cells. One well-characterized process that results in the transient appearance of such structures is the engulfment of apoptotic cells by phagocytosis. However, many other types of cell-in-cell structure have been described that involve viable non-apoptotic cells. Some of these structures seem to form by the invasion of one cell into another, rather than by engulfment. The mechanisms of cell-in-cell formation and the possible physiological roles of these processes will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Fusion
  • Cellular Structures / physiology*
  • Cytoplasmic Vesicles / physiology
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*
  • Vacuoles / physiology