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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2004 Aug;14(4):428-34.

Bio-switches: what makes them robust?

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, Connecticut 06030-1507, USA.


Ideas of how a system of interacting enzymes can act as a switch are based on the concept of bistability of a biochemical network. This means that, because of the very structure of a signaling pathway, the system can be in one of two stable steady states: active or inactive. Switching from one state to another may then occur in response to external stimuli or as a result of internal development. However, the bistability of a biochemical network might not be robust enough to be the sole mechanism behind bio-switching. On the basis of recent experimental data on the cell-cycle G2/M transition during starfish oocyte meiotic maturation, it is shown that cooperative phenomena--such as phase changes associated with clustering, dissolution of aggregates and so on--may play central roles in providing a decisive and irreversible transition.

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