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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Molecular Systems Biology.

Volume 5, 20 January 2009, Article number256.

The published version is available at

DOI: 10.1038/msb.2009.19

Copyright © 2009 EMBO and Macmillan Publishers Limited.


Crosstalk mechanisms have not been studied as thoroughly as individual signaling pathways. We exploit experimental and computational approaches to reveal how a concordant interplay between the insulin and epidermal growth factor (EGF) signaling networks can potentiate mitogenic signaling. In HEK293 cells, insulin is a poor activator of the Ras/ERK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase) cascade, yet it enhances ERK activation by low EGF doses. We find that major crosstalk mechanisms that amplify ERK signaling are localized upstream of Ras and at the Ras/Raf level. Computational modeling unveils how critical network nodes, the adaptor proteins GAB1 and insulin receptor substrate (IRS), Src kinase, and phosphatase SHP2, convert insulin-induced increase in the phosphatidylinositol-3,4,5-triphosphate (PIP(3)) concentration into enhanced Ras/ERK activity. The model predicts and experiments confirm that insulin-induced amplification of mitogenic signaling is abolished by disrupting PIP(3)-mediated positive feedback via GAB1 and IRS. We demonstrate that GAB1 behaves as a non-linear amplifier of mitogenic responses and insulin endows EGF signaling with robustness to GAB1 suppression. Our results show the feasibility of using computational models to identify key target combinations and predict complex cellular responses to a mixture of external cues.