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Protein Sci. 2012 Jul;21(7):918-28. doi: 10.1002/pro.2089. Epub 2012 Jun 5.

How cells process information: quantification of spatiotemporal signaling dynamics.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.


Arguably, one of the foremost distinctions between life and non-living matter is the ability to sense environmental changes and respond appropriately--an ability that is invested in every living cell. Within a single cell, this function is largely carried out by networks of signaling molecules. However, the details of how signaling networks help cells make complicated decisions are still not clear. For instance, how do cells read graded, analog stress signals but convert them into digital live-or-die responses? The answer to such questions may originate from the fact that signaling molecules are not static but dynamic entities, changing in numbers and activity over time and space. In the past two decades, researchers have been able to experimentally monitor signaling dynamics and use mathematical techniques to quantify and abstract general principles of how cells process information. In this review, the authors first introduce and discuss various experimental and computational methodologies that have been used to study signaling dynamics. The authors then discuss the different types of temporal dynamics such as oscillations and bistability that can be exhibited by signaling systems and highlight studies that have investigated such dynamics in physiological settings. Finally, the authors illustrate the role of spatial compartmentalization in regulating cellular responses with examples of second-messenger signaling in cardiac myocytes.

Copyright © 2012 The Protein Society.

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