Back To CourseFundamental Biology
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Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.
Remember playing the game 'telephone' as a kid? One person started with a message that got passed down the line through whispers. As the message made its way from person to person, it changed into something different and by the end may have had nothing to do with the original statement. This happens because there is a communication problem along the line. It shows you just how important good communication is, even with something as simple as a child's game.
Your cells also rely on good communication, but unlike a game of telephone, if there is a miscommunication, the consequences can be quite severe!
Cell-to-cell signaling is a critical component of coordinating cellular activities. Through this communication, messages are carried from signaling cells to receiving cells, also known as target cells. This signaling occurs with proteins and other types of signaling molecules. What kinds of processes and activities depend on cell communication? Just about everything you can imagine that happens in your body - growth and development, cellular reproduction, tissue repair, sensing pain, and much more.
The pathway along which cellular communication occurs is called the signal transduction pathway. It's a series of cellular and molecular changes that help a target cell receive a message and respond accordingly. These pathways are crucial to cellular function because they're the main mode of communication between cells.
Here's how it works. First, a signaling cell secretes a signaling molecule, which then travels with its message to the target cell. Once it reaches the target cell, it binds with a receptor protein in the target cell's membrane. This is the first step of cell signaling, called reception.
This receptor protein is like the security guard at an entrance gate - it's the designated 'check-in' point for the signaling molecule. When the receptor protein security guard accepts the signaling molecule and binds to it, a relay begins, which is the second step of cell signaling, called transduction. Just like a baton is passed from person to person in a relay race, so is the signal in the target cell through the process of transduction as it passes from relay molecule to relay molecule.
The final relay molecule activates a protein that triggers the final stage of cell signaling, called response. Each response is different because it depends on the message that was carried through the cell.
Just how important is cell communication? It seems that this process is a fairly ancient one and one that most organisms have in common. For example, cell communication is necessary for reproduction, not just of individual cells, but also for entire organisms.
Let's look at yeast as an example. Some yeast cells not only make delicious bread and beer, but they also help us understand how chemical signals can be used to communicate complex information between cells. Even without the ability to make flirty eye contact, these organisms can tell which cells will help them reproduce and create new offspring, and they do this by identifying their 'mates' through chemical signals.
There are two mating types, a and alpha. Chemical signals are secreted from type a that bind to type alpha cells, and type alpha cells secrete a signal that binds to type a cells. Once the signals are received on their cellular counterparts, the two different types of cells, a and alpha, grow together and fuse into one a/alpha cell. The result is a combination of genes from both 'parents' in this new cell.
The most amazing part? This signaling pathway found in the yeast cells is incredibly similar to the signaling pathways found in other organisms, like mammals. Yeast and mammals aren't closely related at all. In fact, yeast, which are single-celled organisms, were around a long time before multicellular organisms (like mammals), so the similarity between the pathways tells us that this is both an ancient and important mechanism for sustaining life on Earth because it has endured through many different evolutionary steps.
Cellular activity and function relies on good communication between cells. Through signaling molecules and pathways, cells can 'talk' to each other. These communications help cells develop, repair tissues, reproduce, and much more.
The signals are transmitted from a signaling cell, which sends out a signaling molecule. During this first stage of cell signaling, called reception, the signaling molecule binds to the receptor protein. The second step, called transduction, occurs when the signal from the signaling molecule travels along the transduction pathway, like a baton through a relay race. It's during the final stage, called response, that the signal finally gets converted into a message the target cell can understand.
You should be glad that your cells are better at communicating than a group of people playing telephone. It would be pretty detrimental to your body if the messages inside got as distorted as they do when we whisper them in someone else's ear!
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Back To CourseFundamental Biology
36 chapters | 333 lessons