Zi Z, Feng Z, Chapnick DA, Dahl M, Deng D, Klipp E, Moustakas A, Liu X
Mol Syst Biol 7 (-) 492 [2011-05-24; online 2011-05-27]
Mammalian cells can decode the concentration of extracellular transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) and transduce this cue into appropriate cell fate decisions. How variable TGF-β ligand doses quantitatively control intracellular signaling dynamics and how continuous ligand doses are translated into discontinuous cellular fate decisions remain poorly understood. Using a combined experimental and mathematical modeling approach, we discovered that cells respond differently to continuous and pulsating TGF-β stimulation. The TGF-β pathway elicits a transient signaling response to a single pulse of TGF-β stimulation, whereas it is capable of integrating repeated pulses of ligand stimulation at short time interval, resulting in sustained phospho-Smad2 and transcriptional responses. Additionally, the TGF-β pathway displays different sensitivities to ligand doses at different time scales. While ligand-induced short-term Smad2 phosphorylation is graded, long-term Smad2 phosphorylation is switch-like to a small change in TGF-β levels. Correspondingly, the short-term Smad7 gene expression is graded, while long-term PAI-1 gene expression is switch-like, as is the long-term growth inhibitory response. Our results suggest that long-term switch-like signaling responses in the TGF-β pathway might be critical for cell fate determination.