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Mol Syst Biol. 2009;5:326. doi: 10.1038/msb.2009.83. Epub 2009 Nov 17.

Strategies for cellular decision-making.

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Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


Stochasticity pervades life at the cellular level. Cells receive stochastic signals, perform detection and transduction with stochastic biochemistry, and grow and die in stochastic environments. Here we review progress in going from the molecular details to the information-processing strategies cells use in their decision-making. Such strategies are fundamentally influenced by stochasticity. We argue that the cellular decision-making can only be probabilistic and occurs at three levels. First, cells must infer from noisy signals the probable current and anticipated future state of their environment. Second, they must weigh the costs and benefits of each potential response, given that future. Third, cells must decide in the presence of other, potentially competitive, decision-makers. In this context, we discuss cooperative responses where some individuals can appear to sacrifice for the common good. We believe that decision-making strategies will be conserved, with comparatively few strategies being implemented by different biochemical mechanisms in many organisms. Determining the strategy of a decision-making network provides a potentially powerful coarse-graining that links systems and evolutionary biology to understand biological design.

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