Long range physical cell-to-cell signalling via mitochondria inside membrane nanotubes: a hypothesis

Theor Biol Med Model. 2016 Jun 6;13(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s12976-016-0042-5.


Coordinated interaction of single cells by cell-to-cell communication (signalling) enables complex behaviour necessary for the functioning of multicellular organisms. A quite newly discovered cell-to-cell signalling mechanism relies on nanotubular cell-co-cell connections, termed "membrane nanotubes" (MNTs). The present paper presents the hypothesis that mitochondria inside MNTs can form a connected structure (mitochondrial network) which enables the exchange of energy and signals between cells. It is proposed that two modes of energy and signal transmission may occur: electrical/electrochemical and electromagnetic (optical). Experimental work supporting the hypothesis is reviewed, and suggestions for future research regarding the discussed topic are given.

Keywords: Cell-to-cell signalling; Filamentous mitochondria; Long-range signalling; Membrane nanotubes; Mitochondrial membrane potential; Mitochondrial networks; Mitochondrial reticulum; Ultra-weak photon emission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nanotubes / chemistry*
  • Signal Transduction*