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An Information Theoretic Framework for Eukaryotic Gradient Sensing

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3 Author(s)

Chemical reaction networks by which individual cells gather and process information about their chemical environments have been dubbed “signal transduction” networks. Despite this suggestive terminology, there have been few attempts to analyze chemical signaling systems with the quantitative tools of information theory. Gradient sensing in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum is a well characterized signal transduction system in which a cell estimates the direction of a source of diffusing chemoattractant molecules based on the spatiotemporal sequence of ligand-receptor binding events at the cell membrane. Using Monte Carlo techniques (MCell) we construct a simulation in which a collection of individual ligand particles undergoing Brownian diffusion in a three-dimensional volume interact with receptors on the surface of a static amoeboid cell. Adapting a method for estimation of spike train entropies described by Victor (originally due to Kozachenko and Leonenko), we estimate lower bounds on the mutual information between the transmitted signal (direction of ligand source) and the received signal (spatiotemporal pattern of receptor binding/unbinding events). Hence we provide a quantitative framework for addressing the question: how much could the cell know, and when could it know it? We show that the time course of the mutual information between the cell's surface receptors and the (unknown) gradient direction is consistent with experimentally measured cellular response times. We find that the acquisition of directional information depends strongly on the time constant at which the intracellular response is filtered.