Original Article

Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 75, Issue 8, pp 1400-1416

First online:

Modeling Intercellular Transfer of Biomolecules Through Tunneling Nanotubes

  • Yasir SuhailAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins UniversityHigh-Throughput Biology Center, Johns Hopkins University
  • , KshitizAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins UniversityDepartment of Bioengineering, University of Washington
  • , Justin LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Bioengineering, University of Washington
  • , Mark WalkerAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • , Deok-Ho KimAffiliated withDepartment of Bioengineering, University of Washington
  • , Matthew D. BrennanAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • , Joel S. BaderAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins UniversityHigh-Throughput Biology Center, Johns Hopkins University
  • , Andre LevchenkoAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University Email author 

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Abstract

Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) have previosly been observed as long and thin transient structures forming between cells and intercellular protein transfer through them has been experimentally verified. It is hypothesized that this may be a physiologically important means of cell–cell communication. This paper attempts to give a simple model for the rates of transfer of molecules across these TNTs at different distances. We describe the transfer of both cytosolic and membrane bound molecules between neighboring populations of cells and argue how the lifetime of the TNT, the diffusion rate, distance between cells, and the size of the molecules may affect their transfer. The model described makes certain predictions and opens a number of questions to be explored experimentally.