Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 37202391
Link to DOI – 10.1038/s41419-023-05835-8
Cell Death Dis 2023 May; 14(5): 329
Tunnelling Nanotubes (TNTs) facilitate contact-mediated intercellular communication over long distances. Material transfer via TNTs can range from ions and intracellular organelles to protein aggregates and pathogens. Prion-like toxic protein aggregates accumulating in several neurodegenerative pathologies, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases, have been shown to spread via TNTs not only between neurons, but also between neurons-astrocytes, and neurons-pericytes, indicating the importance of TNTs in mediating neuron-glia interactions. TNT-like structures were also reported between microglia, however, their roles in neuron-microglia interaction remain elusive. In this work, we quantitatively characterise microglial TNTs and their cytoskeletal composition, and demonstrate that TNTs form between human neuronal and microglial cells. We show that α-Synuclein (α-Syn) aggregates increase the global TNT-mediated connectivity between cells, along with the number of TNT connections per cell pair. Homotypic TNTs formed between microglial cells, and heterotypic TNTs between neuronal and microglial cells are furthermore shown to be functional, allowing movement of both α-Syn and mitochondria. Quantitative analysis shows that α-Syn aggregates are transferred predominantly from neuronal to microglial cells, possibly as a mechanism to relieve the burden of accumulated aggregates. By contrast, microglia transfer mitochondria preferably to α-Syn burdened neuronal cells over the healthy ones, likely as a potential rescue mechanism. Besides describing novel TNT-mediated communication between neuronal and microglial cells, this work allows us to better understand the cellular mechanisms of spreading neurodegenerative diseases, shedding light on the role of microglia.