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Biophys J. 2012 Dec 5;103(11):2389-98. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2012.10.006.

Crosstalk and competition in signaling networks.

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Center for Bioinformatics, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA.


Signaling networks have evolved to transduce external and internal information into critical cellular decisions such as growth, differentiation, and apoptosis. These networks form highly interconnected systems within cells due to network crosstalk, where an enzyme from one canonical pathway acts on targets from other pathways. It is currently unclear what types of effects these interconnections can have on the response of networks to incoming signals. In this work, we employ mathematical models to characterize the influence that multiple substrates have on one another. These models build off of the atomistic motif of a kinase/phosphatase pair acting on a single substrate. We find that the ultrasensitive, switch-like response these motifs can exhibit becomes transitive: if one substrate saturates the enzymes and responds ultrasensitively, then all substrates will do so regardless of their degree of saturation. We also demonstrate that the phosphatases themselves can induce crosstalk even when the kinases are independent. These findings have strong implications for how we understand and classify crosstalk, as well as for the rational development of kinase inhibitors aimed at pharmaceutically modulating network behavior.

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