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Brain Res Rev. 2010 Sep;64(1):137-59. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2010.03.003. Epub 2010 Mar 27.

Understanding wiring and volume transmission.

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IRCCS San Camillo Venezia, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Via Campi 287, Modena, Italy.


The proposal on the existence of two main modes of intercellular communication in the central nervous system (CNS) was introduced in 1986 and called wiring transmission (WT) and volume transmission (VT). The major criterion for this classification was the different characteristics of the communication channel with physical boundaries well delimited in the case of WT (axons and their synapses; gap junctions) but not in the case of VT (the extracellular fluid filled tortuous channels of the extracellular space and the cerebrospinal fluid filled ventricular space and sub-arachnoidal space). The basic dichotomic classification of intercellular communication in the brain is still considered valid, but recent evidence on the existence of unsuspected specialized structures for intercellular communication, such as microvesicles (exosomes and shedding vesicles) and tunnelling nanotubes, calls for a refinement of the original classification model. The proposed updating is based on criteria which are deduced not only from these new findings but also from concepts offered by informatics to classify the communication networks in the CNS. These criteria allowed the identification also of new sub-classes of WT and VT, namely the "tunnelling nanotube type of WT" and the "Roamer type of VT." In this novel type of VT microvesicles are safe vesicular carriers for targeted intercellular communication of proteins, mtDNA and RNA in the CNS flowing in the extracellular fluid along energy gradients to reach target cells. In the tunnelling nanotubes proteins, mtDNA and RNA can migrate as well as entire organelles such as mitochondria. Although the existence and the role of these new types of intercellular communication in the CNS are still a matter of investigation and remain to be fully demonstrated, the potential importance of these novel types of WT and VT for brain function in health and disease is discussed.

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