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PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Mar 21;4(3):e1000041. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000041.

A hidden feedback in signaling cascades is revealed.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology and Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.


Cycles involving covalent modification of proteins are key components of the intracellular signaling machinery. Each cycle is comprised of two interconvertable forms of a particular protein. A classic signaling pathway is structured by a chain or cascade of basic cycle units in such a way that the activated protein in one cycle promotes the activation of the next protein in the chain, and so on. Starting from a mechanistic kinetic description and using a careful perturbation analysis, we have derived, to our knowledge for the first time, a consistent approximation of the chain with one variable per cycle. The model we derive is distinct from the one that has been in use in the literature for several years, which is a phenomenological extension of the Goldbeter-Koshland biochemical switch. Even though much has been done regarding the mathematical modeling of these systems, our contribution fills a gap between existing models and, in doing so, we have unveiled critical new properties of this type of signaling cascades. A key feature of our new model is that a negative feedback emerges naturally, exerted between each cycle and its predecessor. Due to this negative feedback, the system displays damped temporal oscillations under constant stimulation and, most important, propagates perturbations both forwards and backwards. This last attribute challenges the widespread notion of unidirectionality in signaling cascades. Concrete examples of applications to MAPK cascades are discussed. All these properties are shared by the complete mechanistic description and our simplified model, but not by previously derived phenomenological models of signaling cascades.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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