Ultrasensitive response motifs: basic amplifiers in molecular signalling networks

Qiang Zhang, Sudin Bhattacharya, Melvin E. Andersen

Abstract

Multi-component signal transduction pathways and gene regulatory circuits underpin integrated cellular responses to perturbations. A recurring set of network motifs serve as the basic building blocks of these molecular signalling networks. This review focuses on ultrasensitive response motifs (URMs) that amplify small percentage changes in the input signal into larger percentage changes in the output response. URMs generally possess a sigmoid input–output relationship that is steeper than the Michaelis–Menten type of response and is often approximated by the Hill function. Six types of URMs can be commonly found in intracellular molecular networks and each has a distinct kinetic mechanism for signal amplification. These URMs are: (i) positive cooperative binding, (ii) homo-multimerization, (iii) multistep signalling, (iv) molecular titration, (v) zero-order covalent modification cycle and (vi) positive feedback. Multiple URMs can be combined to generate highly switch-like responses. Serving as basic signal amplifiers, these URMs are essential for molecular circuits to produce complex nonlinear dynamics, including multistability, robust adaptation and oscillation. These dynamic properties are in turn responsible for higher-level cellular behaviours, such as cell fate determination, homeostasis and biological rhythm.

  • Received February 15, 2013.
  • Accepted April 2, 2013.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.

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