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PLoS One. 2008 Mar 12;3(3):e1782. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001782.

Topological analysis of MAPK cascade for kinetic ErbB signaling.

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Cellular Systems Biology Team, Computational and Experimental Systems Biology Group, RIKEN Genomic Sciences Center, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan.


Ligand-induced homo- and hetero-dimer formation of ErbB receptors results in different biological outcomes irrespective of recruitment and activation of similar effector proteins. Earlier experimental research indicated that cells expressing both EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) and the ErbB4 receptor (E1/4 cells) induced E1/4 cell-specific B-Raf activation and higher extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation, followed by cellular transformation, than cells solely expressing EGFR (E1 cells) in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Since our experimental data revealed the presence of positive feedback by ERK on upstream pathways, it was estimated that the cross-talk/feedback pathway structure of the Raf-MEK-ERK cascade might affect ERK activation dynamics in our cell system. To uncover the regulatory mechanism concerning the ERK dynamics, we used topological models and performed parameter estimation for all candidate structures that possessed ERK-mediated positive feedback regulation of Raf. The structure that reliably reproduced a series of experimental data regarding signal amplitude and duration of the signaling molecules was selected as a solution. We found that the pathway structure is characterized by ERK-mediated positive feedback regulation of B-Raf and B-Raf-mediated negative regulation of Raf-1. Steady-state analysis of the estimated structure indicated that the amplitude of Ras activity might critically affect ERK activity through ERK-B-Raf positive feedback coordination with sustained B-Raf activation in E1/4 cells. However, Rap1 that positively regulates B-Raf activity might be less effective concerning ERK and B-Raf activity. Furthermore, we investigated how such Ras activity in E1/4 cells can be regulated by EGFR/ErbB4 heterodimer-mediated signaling. From a sensitivity analysis of the detailed upstream model for Ras activation, we concluded that Ras activation dynamics is dominated by heterodimer-mediated signaling coordination with a large initial speed of dimerization when the concentration of the ErbB4 receptor is considerably high. Such characteristics of the signaling cause the preferential binding of the Grb2-SOS complex to heterodimer-mediated signaling molecules.

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