Mechanisms of cellular communication through intercellular protein transfer

J Cell Mol Med. 2011 Jul;15(7):1458-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2010.01008.x. Epub 2010 Jan 11.


In a multicellular system, cellular communication is a must for orchestration and coordination of cellular events. Advent of the latest analytical and imaging tools has allowed us to enhance our understanding of the intercellular communication. An intercellular exchange of proteins or intact membrane patches is a ubiquitous phenomenon, and has been the subject of renewed interest, particularly in the context of immune cells. Recent evidence implicates that intercellular protein transfers, including trogocytosis is an important mechanism of the immune system to modulate immune responses and transferred proteins can also contribute to pathology. It has been demonstrated that intercellular protein transfer can be through the internalization/pathway, dissociation-associated pathway, uptake of exosomes and membrane nanotube formations. Exchange of membrane molecules/antigens between immune cells has been observed for a long time, but the mechanisms and functional consequences of these transfers remain unclear. In this review, we will discuss the important findings concerning intercellular protein transfers, possible mechanisms and highlight their physiological relevance to the immune system, with special reference to T cells such as the stimulatory or suppressive immune responses derived from T cells with acquired dendritic cell membrane molecules.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Intercellular Junctions / metabolism
  • Nanotubes
  • Protein Transport*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism


  • Proteins
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell