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Transl Res. 2014 Nov;164(5):359-65. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.011. Epub 2014 May 24.

Tumor-stromal cross talk: direct cell-to-cell transfer of oncogenic microRNAs via tunneling nanotubes.

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  • 1Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 2Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 3Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 4Department of Surgery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 5Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. Electronic address:


Tunneling nanotubes (TnTs) represent a novel mechanism by which intercellular components such as proteins, Golgi vesicles, and mitochondria can be transferred from cell to cell in the complex tumor microenvironment. Here, we report data showing that microRNAs (miRNAs) are transferred through TnTs in osteosarcoma (OS) and ovarian cancer as in vitro model systems. miRNA array analysis demonstrated significant upregulation of miR-19a in OS tumors resected from human patients, and differential expression of miR-199a in ovarian cancer cell lines resistant or sensitive to platinum chemotherapy. K7M2 murine OS cells were transfected with miR-19a and cultured with nontransfected K7M2 cells in low-serum, hyperglycemic medium for up to 72 hours to induce TnT formation. miRNA transfer via TnTs was detected by time-lapse microscopic imaging. miR-19a was also transported via TnTs connecting transfected K7M2 cells and nontransfected stromal MC3T3 murine osteoblast cells. Similar findings were observed in studies of TnT-mediated transport of miR-199a among SKOV3 ovarian cancer cells and nonmalignant immortalized ovarian epithelial cells. To quantify TnT-mediated transport of miRNAs, we used modified Boyden chambers to separate miR-19a-transfected K7M2 cells (top chamber) and DiI-labeled MC3T3 cells (bottom chamber) compared with open culture of these cells. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting analysis of cells collected after 48 hours of culture indicated that miR-19a-positive MC3T3 cells were 3-fold higher in open culture; this finding suggests that miR-19a transfer occurred via TnTs, exclusive of other forms of cell-cell communication. These studies demonstrate that TnTs mediate direct transfer of genetic material between tumor and stromal cells.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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[Available on 2015-11-01]
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