Tunneling Nanotubes Provide a Unique Conduit for Intercellular Transfer of Cellular Contents in Human Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33093. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033093. Epub 2012 Mar 9.

Abstract

Tunneling nanotubes are long, non-adherent F-actin-based cytoplasmic extensions which connect proximal or distant cells and facilitate intercellular transfer. The identification of nanotubes has been limited to cell lines, and their role in cancer remains unclear. We detected tunneling nanotubes in mesothelioma cell lines and primary human mesothelioma cells. Using a low serum, hyperglycemic, acidic growth medium, we stimulated nanotube formation and bidirectional transfer of vesicles, proteins, and mitochondria between cells. Notably, nanotubes developed between malignant cells or between normal mesothelial cells, but not between malignant and normal cells. Immunofluorescent staining revealed their actin-based assembly and structure. Metformin and an mTor inhibitor, Everolimus, effectively suppressed nanotube formation. Confocal microscopy with 3-dimensional reconstructions of sectioned surgical specimens demonstrated for the first time the presence of nanotubes in human mesothelioma and lung adenocarcinoma tumor specimens. We provide the first evidence of tunneling nanotubes in human primary tumors and cancer cells and propose that these structures play an important role in cancer cell pathogenesis and invasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Mesothelioma / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nanotubes / chemistry*
  • Nanotubes / ultrastructure*
  • Pleural Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Time-Lapse Imaging