Robustness and Compensation of Information Transmission of Signaling Pathways

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Science  02 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6145, pp. 558-561
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234511

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Simple Signals?

Cells process information about themselves and their surroundings through biochemical signaling pathways. Uda et al. (p. 5588) used a recently developed cytometric method to quantitate signaling through biochemical pathways in individual rat pheochromocytoma cells responding to growth factors. The signaling pathways studied provided about 1 bit of information, or only enough for a binary (on or off) decision. In spite of the simplicity, the results showed interactions between pathways with shared components. In some cases, information carried between inputs and intermediate outputs was less than that between the input and more “downstream” outputs, indicating that information was carried through multiple paths. Similarly, in the presence of pharmacological inhibitors of one pathway, others were able to compensate to allow robust transfer of information. Thus, in spite of noise and variation in signal intensities in individual cells, robust transfer of information from the growth factors was achieved.


Robust transmission of information despite the presence of variation is a fundamental problem in cellular functions. However, the capability and characteristics of information transmission in signaling pathways remain poorly understood. We describe robustness and compensation of information transmission of signaling pathways at the cell population level. We calculated the mutual information transmitted through signaling pathways for the growth factor–mediated gene expression. Growth factors appeared to carry only information sufficient for a binary decision. Information transmission was generally more robust than average signal intensity despite pharmacological perturbations, and compensation of information transmission occurred. Information transmission to the biological output of neurite extension appeared robust. Cells may use information entropy as information so that messages can be robustly transmitted despite variation in molecular activities among individual cells.

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