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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

An investigation of spatial signal transduction in cellular networks

Aiman Alam-Nazki1 and J Krishnan12*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Process Systems Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, South Kensington Campus, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

2 Institute for Systems and Synthetic Biology, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

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BMC Systems Biology 2012, 6:83  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-6-83

Published: 5 July 2012



Spatial signal transduction plays a vital role in many intracellular processes such as eukaryotic chemotaxis, polarity generation and cell division. Furthermore it is being increasingly realized that the spatial dimension to signalling may play an important role in other apparently purely temporal signal transduction processes. It is increasingly being recognized that a conceptual basis for studying spatial signal transduction in signalling networks is necessary.


In this work we examine spatial signal transduction in a series of standard motifs/networks. These networks include coherent and incoherent feedforward, positive and negative feedback, cyclic motifs, monostable switches, bistable switches and negative feedback oscillators. In all these cases, the driving signal has spatial variation. For each network we consider two cases, one where all elements are essentially non-diffusible, and the other where one of the network elements may be highly diffusible. A careful analysis of steady state signal transduction provides many insights into the behaviour of all these modules. While in the non-diffusible case for the most part, spatial signalling reflects the temporal signalling behaviour, in the diffusible cases, we see significant differences between spatial and temporal signalling characteristics. Our results demonstrate that the presence of diffusible elements in the networks provides important constraints and capabilities for signalling.


Our results provide a systematic basis for understanding spatial signalling in networks and the role of diffusible elements therein. This provides many insights into the signal transduction capabilities and constraints in such networks and suggests ways in which cellular signalling and information processing is organized to conform to or bypass those constraints. It also provides a framework for starting to understand the organization and regulation of spatial signal transduction in individual processes.

Cellular signal processing; Spatial signalling; Signalling motifs; Global regulation; Diffusion; Non-linear dynamics; Networks