European Biophysics Journal

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 121–129 | Cite as

Structure and elastic properties of tunneling nanotubes

  • Bruno Pontes
  • Nathan B. Viana
  • Loraine Campanati
  • Marcos Farina
  • Vivaldo Moura Neto
  • H. Moysés NussenzveigEmail author
Original Paper


We investigate properties of a reported new mechanism for cell–cell interactions, tunneling nanotubes (TNT’s). TNT’s mediate actin-based transfer of vesicles and organelles and they allow signal transmission between cells. The effects of lateral pulling with polystyrene beads trapped by optical tweezers on TNT’s linking separate U-87 MG human glioblastoma cells in culture are described. This cell line was chosen for handling ease and possible pathology implications of TNT persistence in communication between cancerous cells. Observed nanotubes are shown to have the characteristic features of TNT’s. We find that pulling induces two different types of TNT bifurcations. In one of them, termed V-Y bifurcation, the TNT is first distorted into a V-shaped form, following which a new branch emerges from the apex. In the other one, termed I-D bifurcation, the pulled TNT is bent into a curved arc of increasingly broader span. Curves showing the variation of pulling force with displacement are obtained. Results yield information on TNT structure and elastic properties.


Tunneling nanotubes Structure Elastic properties Optical tweezers Tethers Bifurcations 



This work was supported by the Brazilian agencies Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), Instituto do Milênio de Nanociências, Instituto do Milênio de Avanço Global e Integrado da Matemática Brasileira, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) and Fundação Universitária José Bonifácio (FUJB). We thank Jair Koiller and Gerusa Alexsandra de Araújo for helpful discussions.

Supplementary material

Movie M1. Vesicle transfer along TNT to U-87 MG cell under stress (no CO2). Real time interval 12.5 min. (MPG 1.06 Mb)

Movie M2. TNT formation through separation of two initially linked U-87 MG cells. Real time interval 1.7 min. (MPG 844 kb)

Movie M3. Left: V-Y bifurcation. Real time interval 6.7 min. Right: Simultaneous force ´ displacement graph. Curve drawn to guide the eye. (MPG 828 kb)

Movie M4. Left: I-D bifurcation. Real time interval 12 sec. Right: Simultaneous force ´ displacement graph. Curve drawn to guide the eye. Images treated with ImageJ Shadow north filter. (MPG 806 kb)


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Copyright information

© EBSA 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruno Pontes
    • 1
  • Nathan B. Viana
    • 1
    • 2
  • Loraine Campanati
    • 1
  • Marcos Farina
    • 1
  • Vivaldo Moura Neto
    • 1
  • H. Moysés Nussenzveig
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.LPO-COPEA, Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Instituto de Física, Universidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

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