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PLoS Comput Biol. 2007 Jun;3(6):e108. Epub 2007 Apr 30.

A mass conserved reaction-diffusion system captures properties of cell polarity.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan.


Cell polarity is a general cellular process that can be seen in various cell types such as migrating neutrophils and Dictyostelium cells. The Rho small GTP(guanosine 5'-tri phosphate)ases have been shown to regulate cell polarity; however, its mechanism of emergence has yet to be clarified. We first developed a reaction-diffusion model of the Rho GTPases, which exhibits switch-like reversible response to a gradient of extracellular signals, exclusive accumulation of Cdc42 and Rac, or RhoA at the maximal or minimal intensity of the signal, respectively, and tracking of changes of a signal gradient by the polarized peak. The previous cell polarity models proposed by Subramanian and Narang show similar behaviors to our Rho GTPase model, despite the difference in molecular networks. This led us to compare these models, and we found that these models commonly share instability and a mass conservation of components. Based on these common properties, we developed conceptual models of a mass conserved reaction-diffusion system with diffusion-driven instability. These conceptual models retained similar behaviors of cell polarity in the Rho GTPase model. Using these models, we numerically and analytically found that multiple polarized peaks are unstable, resulting in a single stable peak (uniqueness of axis), and that sensitivity toward changes of a signal gradient is specifically restricted at the polarized peak (localized sensitivity). Although molecular networks may differ from one cell type to another, the behaviors of cell polarity in migrating cells seem similar, suggesting that there should be a fundamental principle. Thus, we propose that a mass conserved reaction-diffusion system with diffusion-driven instability is one of such principles of cell polarity.

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