Excitable behavior can explain the “ping‐pong” mode of communication between cells using the same chemoattractant

Bioessays 34 (4):259-266 (2012)
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Abstract

Here we elucidate a paradox: how a single chemoattractant‐receptor system in two individuals is used for communication despite the seeming inevitability of self‐excitation. In the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa, genetically identical cells that produce the same chemoattractant fuse via the homing of individual cell protrusions toward each other. This is achieved via a recently described “ping‐pong” pulsatile communication. Using a generic activator‐inhibitor model of excitable behavior, we demonstrate that the pulse exchange can be fully understood in terms of two excitable systems locked into a stable oscillatory pattern of mutual excitation. The most puzzling properties of this communication are the sudden onset of oscillations with final amplitude, and the absence of seemingly inevitable self‐excitation. We show that these properties result directly from both the excitability threshold and refractory period characteristic of excitable systems. Our model suggests possible molecular mechanisms for the ping‐pong communication.

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