It was already suggested in the early ‘70's that RNA molecules might transfer between mammalian cells in culture. Yet, more direct evidence for RNA transfer in animal and plant cells was only provided decades later, as this field became established. In this mini-review, we will describe evidence for the transfer of different types of RNA between cells through tunneling nanotubes (TNTs). TNTs are long, yet thin, open-ended cellular protrusions that are structurally distinct from filopodia. TNTs connect cells and can transfer many types of cargo, including small molecules, proteins, vesicles, pathogens, and organelles. Recent work has shown that TNTs can also transfer mRNAs, viral RNAs and non-coding RNAs. Here, we will review the evidence for TNT-mediated RNA transfer, discuss the technical challenges in this field, and conjecture about the possible significance of this pathway in health and disease.

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