Researchers studied the exchange of molecules between cells, by color-coding them with red or blue cellular fluorescent 'dyes' or 'tags.' Blue cells were co-cultured with red cells and monitored to see if they exchanged cellular material, such as proteins through tunneling nanotubes (TNTs).
They observed that the function a protein involved in the transport of proteins and organelles within cells (called 'Rab8'), was affected, suggesting that this protein is a key regulator of cell-cell communication in cancer.
Live cell imaging confirmed that the transfer is contact-dependent. Importantly, the scientists experiments also showed that this process occurs in vivo.
Using two groups of mice that had green (healthy cells) and red (human cancer cells) fluorescent tags, they observed a transfer of red material into the green healthy cells of the mice's mammary fat pads.