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J Theor Biol. 2007 Jun 21;246(4):755-61. Epub 2007 Feb 6.

Signal transduction network motifs and biological memory.

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Department of Medicine (Cardiology), David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Memory is a ubiquitous phenomenon in biological systems, yet the mechanisms responsible for memory, and how to manipulate it at the subcellular level, remain poorly understood. Subjected to transient stimuli, biological systems can exhibit short early responses and/or prolonged (or permanent) late responses. Experimental evidence suggests that early responses (short-term memory) involve post-translational modification of existing proteins and/or their intracellular relocalization, whereas late responses (long-term memory) depend on new protein synthesis. Although this provides an intuitive explanation at the basic molecular level, it does little to clarify the important dynamics that actually maintain memory at the systems level. In this study, we use mathematical modeling to study dynamical mechanisms of biological memory. We first examined the response of four fundamental motifs (positive/negative feedforward and feedback) to external stimuli. Because motifs do not exist in isolation within the cell, we then combined these motifs to form signaling modules to understand how they confer biological memory. These motifs, and different combinations thereof, displayed distinct behavior in response to external stimuli. The principles described in this study have important implications for experimental approaches to identify the mechanisms for biological memory and for the development of therapeutic strategies to modulate signaling network responses in the setting of human disease.

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