Are cell membrane nanotubes the ancestors of the nervous system?
Cell membrane nanotubes, variously referred to as tunneling nanotubes and cytonemes, are currently the focus of much interest. They are of ancient origin, as indicated by their opportunistic use for cell invasion by pathogens, including bacteria and virus, and by their employment in bacterial networking. They play a significant role in cancer invasion and in the explanation of glioblastoma resistance to treatment. Their structure and properties have been investigated with optical tweezers. They have been detected in vivo. Their role in the immune system was early verified. Very recently, it was shown that they share many properties with nerve synapses, including the roles of glutamate and Ca ions. Similar features have also been observed in primitive plants. These results support the conjecture that, besides their roles in immunology, developmental biology and cancer, cell membrane nanotubes are the ancestors of the nervous system.
KeywordsCell membrane nanotubes Cytonemes Tunneling nanotubes Nervous system
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), and Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ). The author is a member of the Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia de Fluidos Complexos.
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