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Trends Cell Biol. 2004 Aug;14(8):404-8.

Getting connected: actin-based cell-to-cell channels in plants and animals.

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  • 1Institute of Cellular and Molecular Botany, University of Bonn, D-53115 Bonn, Germany.


It has been known for more than one hundred years that plant cells are interconnected by cytoplasmic channels called plasmodesmata. This supracellularity was generally considered to be an exotic feature of walled plants containing immobile cells that are firmly enclosed within robust walls. Unexpectedly, intercellular channels in mobile animal cells have been discovered recently. These are extremely dynamic and sensitive to mechanical stress, which causes their rapid breakage and retraction. Both plasmodesmata and nanotubular cell-to-cell channels are supported by the actin cytoskeleton and exclude microtubules. In this article, we discuss the relevance of cell-to-cell channels not only for intercellular communication but also for the development and morphogenesis of multicellular organisms. We also suggest possible parallels between the cell-to-cell transport of endosomes and intracellular pathogens.

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