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This article is part of the supplement: Selected articles from the IEEE International Conference on Bioinformatics and Biomedicine 2012: Medical Genomics

Open Access Research

Theoretical aspects and modelling of cellular decision making, cell killing and information-processing in photodynamic therapy of cancer

Ioannis Gkigkitzis

Author Affiliations

Department of Mathematics, East Carolina University, 124 Austin Building, East Fifth Street, Greenville, NC, 27858-4353, USA

Department of Biomedical Physics, C-209, Howell Science Complex, East Carolina University Tenth Street, Greenville, NC, 27858-4353, USA

BMC Medical Genomics 2013, 6(Suppl 3):S3  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-6-S3-S3

Published: 11 November 2013



The aim of this report is to provide a mathematical model of the mechanism for making binary fate decisions about cell death or survival, during and after Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) treatment, and to supply the logical design for this decision mechanism as an application of rate distortion theory to the biochemical processing of information by the physical system of a cell.


Based on system biology models of the molecular interactions involved in the PDT processes previously established, and regarding a cellular decision-making system as a noisy communication channel, we use rate distortion theory to design a time dependent Blahut-Arimoto algorithm where the input is a stimulus vector composed of the time dependent concentrations of three PDT related cell death signaling molecules and the output is a cell fate decision. The molecular concentrations are determined by a group of rate equations. The basic steps are: initialize the probability of the cell fate decision, compute the conditional probability distribution that minimizes the mutual information between input and output, compute the cell probability of cell fate decision that minimizes the mutual information and repeat the last two steps until the probabilities converge. Advance to the next discrete time point and repeat the process.


Based on the model from communication theory described in this work, and assuming that the activation of the death signal processing occurs when any of the molecular stimulants increases higher than a predefined threshold (50% of the maximum concentrations), for 1800s of treatment, the cell undergoes necrosis within the first 30 minutes with probability range 90.0%-99.99% and in the case of repair/survival, it goes through apoptosis within 3-4 hours with probability range 90.00%-99.00%. Although, there is no experimental validation of the model at this moment, it reproduces some patterns of survival ratios of predicted experimental data.


Analytical modeling based on cell death signaling molecules has been shown to be an independent and useful tool for prediction of cell surviving response to PDT. The model can be adjusted to provide important insights for cellular response to other treatments such as hyperthermia, and diseases such as neurodegeneration.