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PLoS One. 2008 Aug 27;3(8):e3068. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003068.

Synthetic activation of endogenous PI3K and Rac identifies an AND-gate switch for cell polarization and migration.

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  • 1Chemical and Systems Biology, Bio-X Program, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.


Phosphatidylinositol 3-OH kinase (PI3K) has been widely studied as a principal regulator of cell polarization, migration, and chemotaxis. Surprisingly, recent studies showed that mammalian neutrophils and Dictyostelium discoideum cells can polarize and migrate in the absence of PI3K activity. Here we directly probe the roles of PI3K and its downstream effector, Rac, in HL-60 neutrophils by using a chemical biology approach whereby the endogenously present enzymes are synthetically activated in less than one minute. We show that uniform activation of endogenous PI3K is sufficient to polarize previously unpolarized neutrophils and trigger effective cell migration. After a delay following symmetrical phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-triphosphate (PIP(3)) production, a polarized distribution of PIP(3) was induced by positive feedback requiring actin polymerization. Pharmacological studies argue that this process does not require receptor-coupled trimeric G proteins. Contrary to the current working model, rapid activation of endogenous Rac proteins triggered effective actin polymerization but failed to feed back to PI3K to generate PIP(3) or induce cell polarization. Thus, the increase in PIP(3) concentration at the leading edge is generated by positive feedback with an AND gate logic with a PI3K-Rac-actin polymerization pathway as a first input and a PI3K initiated non-Rac pathway as a second input. This AND-gate control for cell polarization can explain how Rac can be employed for both PI3K-dependent and -independent signaling pathways coexisting in the same cell.

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