The temporal and stationary behavior of protein modification cascades has been extensively studied, yet little is known about the spatial aspects of signal propagation. We have previously shown that the spatial separation of opposing enzymes, such as a kinase and a phosphatase, creates signaling activity gradients. Here we show under what conditions signals stall in the space or robustly propagate through spatially distributed signaling cascades. Robust signal propagation results in activity gradients with long plateaus, which abruptly decay at successive spatial locations. We derive an approximate analytical solution that relates the maximal amplitude and propagation length of each activation profile with the cascade level, protein diffusivity, and the ratio of the opposing enzyme activities. The control of the spatial signal propagation appears to be very different from the control of transient temporal responses for spatially homogenous cascades. For spatially distributed cascades where activating and deactivating enzymes operate far from saturation, the ratio of the opposing enzyme activities is shown to be a key parameter controlling signal propagation. The signaling gradients characteristic for robust signal propagation exemplify a pattern formation mechanism that generates precise spatial guidance for multiple cellular processes and conveys information about the cell size to the nucleus.
Recommended CitationMuñoz-García, Javier; Neufeld, Zoltan; and Kholodenko, Boris N, "Positional information generated by spatially distributed signaling cascades." (2009). Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology Faculty Papers. Paper 68.