A transwell assay that excludes exosomes for assessment of tunneling nanotube-mediated intercellular communication

Venugopal Thayanithy, Patrick O'Hare, Phillip Wong, Xianda Zhao, Clifford J. Steer, Subbaya Subramanian, Emil Lou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are naturally-occurring filamentous actin-based membranous extensions that form across a wide spectrum of mammalian cell types to facilitate long-range intercellular communication. Valid assays are needed to accurately assess the downstream effects of TNT-mediated transfer of cellular signals in vitro. We recently reported a modified transwell assay system designed to test the effects of intercellular transfer of a therapeutic oncolytic virus, and viral-activated drugs, between cells via TNTs. The objective of the current study was to demonstrate validation of this in vitro approach as a new method for effectively excluding diffusible forms of long- and close-range intercellular transfer of intracytoplasmic cargo, including exosomes/microvesicles and gap junctions in order to isolate TNT-selective cell communication. Methods: We designed several steps to effectively reduce or eliminate diffusion and long-range transfer via these extracellular vesicles, and used Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis to quantify exosomes following implementation of these steps. Results: The experimental approach outlined here effectively reduced exosome trafficking by >95%; further use of heparin to block exosome uptake by putative recipient cells further impeded transfer of these extracellular vesicles. Conclusions: This validated assay incorporates several steps that can be taken to quantifiably control for extracellular vesicles in order to perform studies focused on TNT-selective communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number46
JournalCell Communication and Signaling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 13 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


  • Exosomes
  • Extracellular vesicles
  • Intercellular communication
  • Intercellular transfer
  • Membrane nanotubes
  • Microvesicles
  • Transwell assay
  • Tunneling nanotubes


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