Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 26061240
Curr Protoc Cell Biol 2015 Jun;67:12.10.1-21
Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are thin membranous channels providing direct cytoplasmic connection between remote cells. They are commonly observed in different cell cultures and increasing evidence supports their role in intercellular communication and pathogen transfer. However, the study of TNTs presents several pitfalls (e.g., difficulty in preserving such delicate structures, possible confusion with other protrusions, structural and functional heterogeneity, etc.) and therefore requires thoroughly designed approaches. The methods described in this unit represent a guideline for the characterization of TNTs (or TNT-like structures) in cell culture. Specifically, optimized protocols to (1) identify TNTs and the cytoskeletal elements present inside them; (2) evaluate TNT frequency in cell culture; (3) unambiguously distinguish them from other cellular connections or protrusions; and (4) monitor their formation in living cells are provided. Finally, this unit describes how to assess TNT-mediated cell-to-cell transfer of cellular components, which is a fundamental criterion for identifying functional TNTs.