My question is what does the word 'factor' mean in words like transcription-factor or nerve growth-factor? What is similar between these different compounds such that they deserve the word 'factor' in their name?

Edit: My confusion comes perhaps from the use of the word 'factor' in statistics, where it refers to a variable that can take on discrete values (e.g., the factor Gender takes on values 'male' and 'female'). Here a different meaning of the word seems to be used.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is poorly researched. google.se/… $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jul 10 '15 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ @rg255 - I think it is fine - your (Swedish :-) google result links to transcription factor. This question doesn't ask what a TF does, it asks for the broader interpretation of 'factor'. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 10 '15 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'd still suggests its poorly researched (google.se/…) if the OP has done research and asked about what thye specifically don't grasp it would be on topic $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jul 10 '15 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ @rg255 - you may be right. I'd say it's borderline. The voting system will tell :) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 10 '15 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD do you think it is OK to create a question for every entry from a dictionary? $\endgroup$ – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jul 10 '15 at 14:34

There are many meanings of "factor" in Biology. In the context where you place it, namely bio-active substances, such as hormones and enzymes I would go for the definition given by the Medical Dictionary:

factor [fak´ter] : an agent or element that contributes to the production of a result.

Within this definition, a transcription factor contributes to the transcription of DNA into mRNA, and nerve growth factor contributes to the growth and survival of neurons.


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