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Long membrane tethers between cells, known as membrane nantotubes or tunneling nanotubules, create supracellular structures that allow multiple cell bodies to act in a synchronized manner. Calcium fluxes, vesicles, and cell-surface components can all traffic between cells connected by nanotubes. Thus, complex and specific messages can be transmitted between multiple cells, and the strength of signal will suffer relatively little with the distance traveled, as compared to the use of soluble factors to transmit messages. Connecting multiple antigen-presenting cells, for example, can help amplify and coordinate immune responses that are distal to an antigenic site. Conversely, because the ability of a pathogen to spread between cells is a key determinant of its capacity to multiply, pathogens may exploit nanotubes for their own transmission.
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