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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Impact of receptor clustering on ligand binding

Bertrand R Caré123 and Hédi A Soula23

Author Affiliations

1 Université de Lyon, Laboratoire d'InfoRmatique en Image et Systèmes d'information, CNRS UMR5205, F-69621, France

2 Université de Lyon, Cardiovasculaire Métabolisme et Nutrition, Inserm UMR1060, F-69621 Villeurbanne Cédex, France

3 EPI BEAGLE, INRIA Rhône-Alpes, 69603 Villeurbanne, France

BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:48  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-48

Published: 31 March 2011



Cellular response to changes in the concentration of different chemical species in the extracellular medium is induced by ligand binding to dedicated transmembrane receptors. Receptor density, distribution, and clustering may be key spatial features that influence effective and proper physical and biochemical cellular responses to many regulatory signals. Classical equations describing this kind of binding kinetics assume the distributions of interacting species to be homogeneous, neglecting by doing so the impact of clustering. As there is experimental evidence that receptors tend to group in clusters inside membrane domains, we investigated the effects of receptor clustering on cellular receptor ligand binding.


We implemented a model of receptor binding using a Monte-Carlo algorithm to simulate ligand diffusion and binding. In some simple cases, analytic solutions for binding equilibrium of ligand on clusters of receptors are provided, and supported by simulation results. Our simulations show that the so-called "apparent" affinity of the ligand for the receptor decreases with clustering although the microscopic affinity remains constant.


Changing membrane receptors clustering could be a simple mechanism that allows cells to change and adapt its affinity/sensitivity toward a given stimulus.