Fundamental Limits to Cellular Sensing


In recent years experiments have demonstrated that living cells can measure low chemical concentrations with high precision, and much progress has been made in understanding what sets the fundamental limit to the precision of chemical sensing. Chemical concentration measurements start with the binding of ligand molecules to receptor proteins, which is an inherently noisy process, especially at low concentrations. The signaling networks that transmit the information on the ligand concentration from the receptors into the cell have to filter this noise extrinsic to the cell as much as possible. These networks, however, are also stochastic in nature, which means that they will also add noise to the transmitted signal. In this review, we will first discuss how the diffusive transport and binding of ligand to the receptor sets the receptor correlation time, and then how downstream signaling pathways integrate the noise in the receptor state; we will discuss how the number of receptors, the receptor correlation time, and the effective integration time together set a fundamental limit on the precision of sensing. We then discuss how cells can remove the receptor noise while simultaneously suppressing the intrinsic noise in the signaling network. We describe why this mechanism of time integration requires three classes of resources—receptors and their integration time, readout molecules, energy—and how each resource class sets a fundamental sensing limit. We also briefly discuss the scheme of maximum-likelihood estimation, the role of receptor cooperativity, and how cellular copy protocols differ from canonical copy protocols typically considered in the computational literature, explaining why cellular sensing systems can never reach the Landauer limit on the optimal trade-off between accuracy and energetic cost.

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@inproceedings{Wolde2015FundamentalLT, title={Fundamental Limits to Cellular Sensing}, author={Pieter Rein ten Wolde and Nils B. Becker and Thomas E. Ouldridge and Andrew Mugler}, year={2015} }