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Biophys J. 2002 Jan;82(1 Pt 1):50-63.

Models of eukaryotic gradient sensing: application to chemotaxis of amoebae and neutrophils.

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Divisions of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


Eukaryotic cells can detect shallow gradients of chemoattractants with exquisite precision and respond quickly to changes in the gradient steepness and direction. Here, we describe a set of models explaining both adaptation to uniform increases in chemoattractant and persistent signaling in response to gradients. We demonstrate that one of these models can be mapped directly onto the biochemical signal-transduction pathways underlying gradient sensing in amoebae and neutrophils. According to this scheme, a locally acting activator (PI3-kinase) and a globally acting inactivator (PTEN or a similar phosphatase) are coordinately controlled by the G-protein activation. This signaling system adapts perfectly to spatially homogeneous changes in the chemoattractant. In chemoattractant gradients, an imbalance between the action of the activator and the inactivator results in a spatially oriented persistent signaling, amplified by a substrate supply-based positive feedback acting through small G-proteins. The amplification is activated only in a continuous presence of the external signal gradient, thus providing the mechanism for sensitivity to gradient alterations. Finally, based on this mapping, we make predictions concerning the dynamics of signaling. We propose that the underlying principles of perfect adaptation and substrate supply-based positive feedback will be found in the sensory systems of other chemotactic cell types.

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