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Biophys J. 2003 Aug;85(2):730-43.

An integrated model of epidermal growth factor receptor trafficking and signal transduction.

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Biological Sciences Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington 99352, USA.


Endocytic trafficking of many types of receptors can have profound effects on subsequent signaling events. Quantitative models of these processes, however, have usually considered trafficking and signaling independently. Here, we present an integrated model of both the trafficking and signaling pathway of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) using a probability weighted-dynamic Monte Carlo simulation. Our model consists of hundreds of distinct endocytic compartments and approximately 13,000 reactions/events that occur over a broad spatio-temporal range. By using a realistic multicompartment model, we can investigate the distribution of the receptors among cellular compartments as well as their potential signal transduction characteristics. Our new model also allows the incorporation of physiochemical aspects of ligand-receptor interactions, such as pH-dependent binding in different endosomal compartments. To determine the utility of this approach, we simulated the differential activation of the EGFR by two of its ligands, epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha). Our simulations predict that when EGFR is activated with TGF-alpha, receptor activation is biased toward the cell surface whereas EGF produces a signaling bias toward the endosomal compartment. Experiments confirm these predictions from our model and simulations. Our model accurately predicts the kinetics and extent of receptor downregulation induced by either EGF or TGF-alpha. Our results suggest that receptor trafficking controls the compartmental bias of signal transduction, rather than simply modulating signal magnitude. Our model provides a new approach to evaluating the complex effect of receptor trafficking on signal transduction. Importantly, the stochastic and compartmental nature of the simulation allows these models to be directly tested by high-throughput approaches, such as quantitative image analysis.

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