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Modeling Cell-to-Cell Communication Networks Using Response-Time Distributions


Cell-to-cell communication networks have critical roles in coordinating diverse organismal processes, such as tissue development or immune cell response. However, compared with intracellular signal transduction networks, the function and engineering principles of cell-to-cell communication networks are far less understood. Major complications include: cells are themselves regulated by complex intracellular signaling networks; individual cells are heterogeneous; and output of any one cell can recursively become an additional input signal to other cells. Here, we make use of a framework that treats intracellular signal transduction networks as "black boxes" with characterized input-to-output response relationships. We study simple cell-to-cell communication circuit motifs and find conditions that generate bimodal responses in time, as well as mechanisms for independently controlling synchronization and delay of cell-population responses. We apply our modeling approach to explain otherwise puzzling data on cytokine secretion onset times in T cells. Our approach can be used to predict communication network structure using experimentally accessible input-to-output measurements and without detailed knowledge of intermediate steps.

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