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J Theor Biol. 1986 May 21;120(2):151-79.

A mechanism for exact sensory adaptation based on receptor modification.


We provide a theoretical explanation for the observation that in many sensory systems a step increase in stimulus triggers a response that goes through a maximum and then returns to the basal level. Considered here is a receptor molecule that in the absence of ligand can be found in either of two states R and D. Two more states, RL and DL, are formed upon the addition of ligand L. It is assumed that the receptor triggers activity in a sensory system, and that the activity is proportional to a weighted combination of the fractions of molecules that are in each of the four states. It is shown that judicious choice of the weights can provide both an adequate response and exact adaptation to step increases in stimuli. The interconversion between states may operate without energy expenditure or through covalent modification. In both cases, adaptation is associated with receptor modification that acts as a counterweight to changed external conditions. Application to cAMP secretion in Dictyostelium discoideum and to chemotaxis in bacteria is discussed.

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