September 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Subway System Found in Immune Cells

The announcement of a “third form of intercellular communication” hit scientists like TNT: tunneling nanotubules, that is.  Science Now reported that “Scientists have found what appears to be a whole new way for immune cells to communicate with one another: long, narrow tubes that enable them to connect and exchange molecules.”  These subway tunnels between cells pass molecules quickly from cell to cell, including calcium ions that trigger actions in the cell, and possibly antigens.  If so, this “may help explain how immune responses can be initiated so rapidly.”

This system presupposes other systems in place.  If one cell extends a TNT, the other cell has to be prepared to receive it.  When a package arrives, the other cell needs to know what to do with it.  One must also ask how or why, before this system existed, any cell in a community of cells would even venture to send a message outside itself.  Here we have another method of communication (see also 09/14/2005 entry) that allows cells, long thought to be rugged individualists, to be cooperative members of society.

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Categories: Cell Biology, Human Body

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