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Cell Immunol. 2009;254(2):142-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cellimm.2008.08.005. Epub 2008 Oct 4.

Tunneling nanotubes (TNT) are induced by HIV-infection of macrophages: a potential mechanism for intercellular HIV trafficking.

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Department of Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1300 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, New York, NY 10461, USA.


Cell to cell communication is essential for the organization/coordination of multicellular systems and cellular development. Cellular communication is mediated by soluble factors, including growth factors, neurotransmitters, cytokines/chemokines, gap junctions, and the recently described tunneling nanotubes (TNT). TNT are long cytoplasmatic bridges that enable long range directed communication between cells. The proposed function for TNT is the cell-to-cell transfer of large cellular structures such as vesicles and organelles. We demonstrate that HIV-infection of human macrophages results in an increased number of TNT, and show HIV particles within these structures. We propose that HIV "highjacks" TNT communication to spread HIV through an intercellular route between communicated cells, contributing to the pathogenesis of AIDS.

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