PerspectiveCell Biology

Cytonemes Show Their Colors

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Science  15 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6027, pp. 312-313
DOI: 10.1126/science.1205971

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Cells in multicellular organisms need to communicate in order to generate organs and tissues of appropriate shape and function. The “information” content of the communication consists of modulating the activity of biochemical signaling pathways. The “hardware” that is used to convey and collect such signals sometimes includes specialized structures, such as the synapses of neurons and molecular complexes that enable cells to adhere to each other or other surfaces. In many instances, cells actively explore their environment by producing extensions such as filopodia, lamellipodia, axons, and dendrites. The exact role of such extensions in non-neuronal cells remains, in most cases, unexplored. On page 354 of this issue, Roy et al. (1) help fill in some of the blanks. They report on the properties of filopodial extensions in the wing, eye, and tracheal system of Drosophila. They show that these extensions are dedicated to certain signaling pathways by the segregation of the corresponding receptors on their surfaces. The authors call these cell projections, which are based on the protein actin, cytonemes (Latin for “cell thread”). Their findings point to a scenario in which cells produce a signaling molecule that triggers other cells in the vicinity to form cytonemes, which ultimately become stable and are used for propagating specific intercellular signals.