Tunneling nanotubes, TNT, communicate glioblastoma with surrounding non-tumor astrocytes to adapt them to hypoxic and metabolic tumor conditions

Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 15;11(1):14556. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93775-8.


Cell-to-cell communication is essential for the development and proper function of multicellular systems. We and others demonstrated that tunneling nanotubes (TNT) proliferate in several pathological conditions such as HIV, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. However, the nature, function, and contribution of TNT to cancer pathogenesis are poorly understood. Our analyses demonstrate that TNT structures are induced between glioblastoma (GBM) cells and surrounding non-tumor astrocytes to transfer tumor-derived mitochondria. The mitochondrial transfer mediated by TNT resulted in the adaptation of non-tumor astrocytes to tumor-like metabolism and hypoxia conditions. In conclusion, TNT are an efficient cell-to-cell communication system used by cancer cells to adapt the microenvironment to the invasive nature of the tumor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / pathology*
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Glioblastoma / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Laser Capture Microdissection
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / pathology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • DNA, Mitochondrial