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Open Access Research article

Noisy-threshold control of cell death

Jose MG Vilar

Author Affiliations

Biophysics Unit (CSIC-UPV/EHU) and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of the Basque Country, P.O. Box 644, 48080 Bilbao, Spain

IKERBASQUE, Basque Foundation for Science, 48011 Bilbao, Spain

BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:152  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-152

Published: 10 November 2010

Abstract

Background

Cellular responses to death-promoting stimuli typically proceed through a differentiated multistage process, involving a lag phase, extensive death, and potential adaptation. Deregulation of this chain of events is at the root of many diseases. Improper adaptation is particularly important because it allows cell sub-populations to survive even in the continuous presence of death conditions, which results, among others, in the eventual failure of many targeted anticancer therapies.

Results

Here, I show that these typical responses arise naturally from the interplay of intracellular variability with a threshold-based control mechanism that detects cellular changes in addition to just the cellular state itself. Implementation of this mechanism in a quantitative model for T-cell apoptosis, a prototypical example of programmed cell death, captures with exceptional accuracy experimental observations for different expression levels of the oncogene Bcl-xL and directly links adaptation with noise in an ATP threshold below which cells die.

Conclusions

These results indicate that oncogenes like Bcl-xL, besides regulating absolute death values, can have a novel role as active controllers of cell-cell variability and the extent of adaptation.