Influenza virus exploits tunneling nanotubes for cell-to-cell spread

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Kumar A, Kim JH, Ranjan P, Metcalfe MG, Cao W, Mishina M, Gangappa S, Guo Z, Boyden ES, Zaki S, York I, García-Sastre A, Shaw M, Sambhara S (2017) Influenza virus exploits tunneling nanotubes for cell-to- cell spread, Scientific Reports 7:40360.

Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) represent a novel route of intercellular communication. While previous work has shown that TNTs facilitate the exchange of viral or prion proteins from infected to naïve cells, it is not clear whether the viral genome is also transferred via this mechanism and further, whether transfer via this route can result in productive replication of the infectious agents in the recipient cell. Here we present evidence that lung epithelial cells are connected by TNTs, and in spite of the presence of neutralizing antibodies and an antiviral agent, Oseltamivir, influenza virus can exploit these networks to transfer viral proteins and genome from the infected to naïve cell, resulting in productive viral replication in the naïve cells. These observations indicate that influenza viruses can spread using these intercellular networks that connect epithelial cells, evading immune and antiviral defenses and provide an explanation for the incidence of influenza infections even in influenza-immune individuals and vaccine failures.