Distinguishing graded and ultrasensitive signalling cascade kinetics by the shape of morphogen gradients in Drosophila.
MacNamara S., Baker RE., Maini PK.
Recently, signalling gradients in cascades of two-state reaction-diffusion systems were described as a model for understanding key biochemical mechanisms that underlie development and differentiation processes in the Drosophila embryo. Diffusion-trapping at the exterior of the cell membrane triggers the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade to relay an appropriate signal from the membrane to the inner part of the cytosol, whereupon another diffusion-trapping mechanism involving the nucleus reads out this signal to trigger appropriate changes in gene expression. Proposed mathematical models exhibit equilibrium distributions consistent with experimental measurements of key spatial gradients in these processes. A significant property of the formulation is that the signal is assumed to be relayed from one system to the next in a linear fashion. However, the MAPK cascade often exhibits nonlinear dose-response properties and the final remark of Berezhkovskii et al. (2009) is that this assumption remains an important property to be tested experimentally, perhaps via a new quantitative assay across multiple genetic backgrounds. In anticipation of the need to be able to sensibly interpret data from such experiments, here we provide a complementary analysis that recovers existing formulae as a special case but is also capable of handling nonlinear functional forms. Predictions of linear and nonlinear signal relays and, in particular, graded and ultrasensitive MAPK kinetics, are compared.