In modern communication we generally have various schemes to communicate the given signal, one of them is to convey information with different levels. does cell signaling too have levels apart from binary 'Yes' and 'No'.

For instance if a cell 'A' wants to communicate with another cell 'B'. I know it can do that by varying the concentration of molecules in the given media and 'B' will decide in favor of 'Yes' or 'No' based on the concentration sensed. But my question is does this sensing always happens in binary levels or is there some thing like:

  1. If nothing sensed do operation 'a'
  2. If moderate concentration sensed do operation 'b'
  3. If high concentration sensed do operation 'c'

I mean communication not done in binary levels but may be quaternary levels. If yes can any reference be provided?


Binary responses are associated with switches, which in turn are associated with bifurcations in the steady states of the biological system in question. Varying some system's parameter (such as a cell's signalling strength) cells can switch from 'on' to 'off' (or viceversa) states. As an example, check out Gardner's toggle switch (https://www.nature.com/articles/35002131), in which this property is exploited in a synthetic system.

However, cell-cell interactions can be much more complicated, allowing behaviours other than binary responses, such as multistability or oscillations. Thus, upon varying a parameter, a cell's state can, for example, go from a particular 'off' state, chango to an oscillating state and then change again to an 'on' state. Thus not only binary responses operate in cell communications, but many intermediate responses are also possible. For a review in multistability in biological systems, check out: http://m.pnas.org/content/101/7/1822.long

Hope it helps!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To add further possibilities: There are also cases which mix digital and analog; eg. Tay et al. Nature, 2010, Single-cell NF-κB dynamics reveal digital activation and analogue information processing ( mcb5068.wustl.edu/MCB/DiscussionSection/PDF_Files/… ) $\endgroup$
    – tsttst
    Dec 10 '17 at 17:01

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