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J Transl Med. 2013 Apr 10;11:94. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-11-94.

Preferential transfer of mitochondria from endothelial to cancer cells through tunneling nanotubes modulates chemoresistance.

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Stem Cell and Microenvironment Laboratory, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Education City, Qatar Foundation, Doha PO: 24144, Qatar.


Our vision of cancer has changed during the past decades. Indeed tumors are now perceived as complex entities where tumoral and stromal components interact closely. Among the different elements of tumor stroma the cellular component play a primordial role. Bone Marrow derived mesenchymal cells (MSCs) are attracted to tumor sites and support tumor growth. Endothelial cells (ECs) play a major role in angiogenesis. While the literature documents many aspects of the cross talk between stromal and cancer cells, the role of direct hetero-cellular contact is not clearly established. Recently, Tunneling nanotubes (TnTs) have been shown to support cell-to-cell transfers of plasma membrane components, cytosolic molecules and organelles within cell lines. Herein, we have investigated the formation of heterocellular TnTs between stromal (MSCs and ECs) and cancer cells. We demonstrate that TnTs occur between different cancer cells, stromal cells and cancer-stromal cell lines. We showed that TnTs-like structure occurred in 3D anchorage independent spheroids and also in tumor explant cultures. In our culture condition, TnTs formation occurred after large membrane adhesion. We showed that intercellular transfers of cytoplasmic content occurred similarly between cancer cells and MSCs or ECs, but we highlighted that the exchange of mitochondria occurred preferentially between endothelial cells and cancer cells. We illustrated that the cancer cells acquiring mitochondria displayed chemoresistance. Our results illustrate the perfusion-independent role of the endothelium by showing a direct endothelial to cancer cell mitochondrial exchange associated to phenotypic modulation. This supports another role of the endothelium in the constitution of the metastatic niche.

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