Tunneling Nanotube-Mediated Communication: A Mechanism of Intercellular Nucleic Acid Transfer

Julia Driscoll, Piyush Gondaliya, Tushar Patel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are thin, F-actin-based membranous protrusions that connect distant cells and can provide e a novel mechanism for intercellular communication. By establishing cytoplasmic continuity between interconnected cells, TNTs enable the bidirectional transfer of nuclear and cytoplasmic cargo, including organelles, nucleic acids, drugs, and pathogenic molecules. TNT-mediated nucleic acid transfer provides a unique opportunity for donor cells to directly alter the genome, transcriptome, and metabolome of recipient cells. TNTs have been reported to transport DNA, mitochondrial DNA, mRNA, viral RNA, and non-coding RNAs, such as miRNA and siRNA. This mechanism of transfer is observed in physiological as well as pathological conditions, and has been implicated in the progression of disease. Herein, we provide a concise overview of TNTs’ structure, mechanisms of biogenesis, and the functional effects of TNT-mediated intercellular transfer of nucleic acid cargo. Furthermore, we highlight the potential translational applications of TNT-mediated nucleic acid transfer in cancer, immunity, and neurological diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5487
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2022


  • intercellular communication
  • nucleic acid transfer
  • tunneling nanotubes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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