A hidden communication system in cells allows rapid decision-making

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Cells navigate a constantly changing environment, facing ever-changing conditions and challenges. But how do cells rapidly adapt to these environmental fluctuations? A new one Moffitt Cancer Center Study, published Science, answers that question by challenging our understanding of how cells work. Cells have a previously unknown information processing system that allows them to make rapid decisions independent of their genes, a team of researchers reports.

For decades, scientists considered DNA the sole source of cellular information. This DNA blueprint instructs cells how to make proteins and carry out essential functions. However, new research at Moffitt by Dipesh Niroula, Ph.D., et al Robert Catenby, MDThe discovery of a non-genetic information system that works in tandem with DNA enables cells to gather information from the environment and respond quickly to changes.

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The study focused on the role of ion gradients across the cell membrane. These gradients, maintained by specialized pumps, require large energy expenditures to generate various transmembrane electrical potentials. The researchers proposed that gradients represent an enormous reservoir of information that allows cells to constantly monitor their environment. When information is received at some point in the cell membrane, it interacts with special gates on ion-specific channels, which then open, allowing those ions to form a communication channel with pre-existing gradients. Ion fluxes trigger a cascade of events near the membrane that allow the cell to analyze and respond to information quickly. When ion fluxes are large or prolonged, they can cause self-assembly of microtubules and microfilaments into the cytoskeleton.

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In general, the cytoskeleton network provides mechanical support to the cell and is responsible for cell shape and movement. However, the Moffitt researchers noted that proteins from the cytoskeleton are also excellent ion conductors. This allows the cytoskeleton to act as a highly dynamic intracellular wiring network to transmit ion-based information from the membrane to intracellular organelles including the mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and nucleus. The researchers suggested that this system, which allows rapid and local responses to specific signals, could generate coordinated regional or global responses to large environmental changes.

„Our research reveals the ability of cells as a means of communication that allows them to quickly sense and respond to changes in their surroundings,” said Niravla, an applied research scientist. Department of Machine Learning. „This complex network enables cells to make quick and informed decisions, critical to their survival and function.”

Researchers believe that this non-genetic information system is important for building and maintaining normal multicellular tissues, and the well-described ion fluxes in neurons represent a special example of this vast information network. Disruption of these dynamics may also be a key component of cancer development. They demonstrated that their model was consistent with several experimental observations and highlighted several testable predictions arising from their model, paving the way for future experiments to validate their theory and shed light on issues in cellular decision-making.

„This study challenges the implicit assumption in biology that the genome is the only source of information, and that the nucleus serves as a kind of central processor. We provide an entirely new information network that allows for the rapid adaptation and sophisticated communication necessary for cell survival, and may be deeply involved in the intercellular signaling that allows multicellular organisms to function.” said Co-Director of Catenby. Center of Excellence for Evolutionary Therapy In Moffitt.

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Note: Niraula D, El Naqa I, Tuszynski JA, Gatenby RA. Modeling non-genomic information dynamics in cells using reservoir computing. Science. 2024;27(4):109614. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2024.109614

This article has been reprinted from the following materials. Note: Material may have been edited for length and content. For more information, please contact the source cited. Access our press release policy Here.

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