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Bioessays. 2012 Apr;34(4):259-66. doi: 10.1002/bies.201100135. Epub 2012 Jan 23.

Excitable behavior can explain the "ping-pong" mode of communication between cells using the same chemoattractant.

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Centre for Systems Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Here we elucidate a paradox: how a single chemoattractant-receptor system in two individuals is used for communication despite the seeming inevitability of self-excitation. In the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa, genetically identical cells that produce the same chemoattractant fuse via the homing of individual cell protrusions toward each other. This is achieved via a recently described "ping-pong" pulsatile communication. Using a generic activator-inhibitor model of excitable behavior, we demonstrate that the pulse exchange can be fully understood in terms of two excitable systems locked into a stable oscillatory pattern of mutual excitation. The most puzzling properties of this communication are the sudden onset of oscillations with final amplitude, and the absence of seemingly inevitable self-excitation. We show that these properties result directly from both the excitability threshold and refractory period characteristic of excitable systems. Our model suggests possible molecular mechanisms for the ping-pong communication.

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