"Although cellular signaling networks perform logical operations like a computer microprocessor, they do not operate in the same way," Groves says. "The individual computational steps in a standard computer are deterministic; the outcome is determined by the inputs. For the chemical reactions that compose a cellular signaling network, however, the molecular level outcomes are defined by probabilities only. This means that the same input can lead to different outcomes."
For cellular signaling networks involving large numbers of protein molecules, the outcome can be directly determined by the process of averaging. Even though the behavior of an individual protein is intrinsically variable, the average behavior from a large group of identical proteins is precisely determined by molecular level probabilities. Ras activation in a living cell, however, involves a relatively small number of SOS molecules, making it impossible to average the variable behavior of the individual molecules. This variation is referred to as stochastic "noise" and has been widely viewed by scientists as an error a cell must overcome.
"Our study showed that, in fact, an important aspect of the SOS signal that activates Ras is encoded in the noise," says Groves. "The protein's dynamic fluctuations between different states of activity transmit information, which means we have found a regulatory coupling in a protein signaling reaction that is entirely based on dynamics, without any trace of the signal being seen in the average behavior."
The Ras Enigma
Ras proteins are essential components of signaling networks that control cellular proliferation, differentiation and survival. Mutations in Ras genes were the
|Contact: Lynn Yarris|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory