While the necessity for cellular communication in larger organisms seems obvious, even single-celled organisms communicate with each other. Yeast cells signal each other to aid mating. Some forms of bacteria coordinate their actions in order to form large complexes called biofilms or to organize the production of toxins to remove competing organisms. The ability of cells to communicate through chemical signals originated in single cells and was essential for the evolution of multicellular organisms. The efficient and error-free function of communication systems is vital for all life as we know it.
Thumbnail image credit: "Cell-to-cell Communication" by NIH Image Gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
- 9.1: Introduction to Cell Communication
- In multicellular organisms, cells send and receive chemical messages constantly to coordinate the actions of distant organs, tissues, and cells. The ability to send messages quickly and efficiently enables cells to coordinate and fine-tune their functions.
- 9.2: Signaling Molecules and Cellular Receptors
- Chemical signals are released by signaling cells in the form of small, usually volatile or soluble molecules called ligands. A ligand is a molecule that binds another specific molecule, in some cases, delivering a signal in the process. Ligands can thus be thought of as signaling molecules. Ligands interact with proteins in target cells, which are cells that are affected by chemical signals; these proteins are also called receptors.
- 9.3: Propagation of the Signal
- Once a ligand binds to a receptor, the signal is transmitted through the membrane and into the cytoplasm. Continuation of a signal in this manner is called signal transduction. Signal transduction only occurs with cell-surface receptors because internal receptors are able to interact directly with DNA in the nucleus to initiate protein synthesis. When a ligand binds to its receptor, conformational changes occur that affect the receptor’s intracellular domain.
- 9.4: Response to the Signal
- Inside the cell, ligands bind to their internal receptors, allowing them to directly affect the cell’s DNA and protein-producing machinery. Using signal transduction pathways, receptors in the plasma membrane produce a variety of effects on the cell. The results of signaling pathways are extremely varied and depend on the type of cell involved as well as the external and internal conditions. A small sampling of responses is described below.
- 9.5: Signaling in Single-Celled Organisms
- Within-cell signaling allows bacteria to respond to environmental cues, such as nutrient levels, some single-celled organisms also release molecules to signal to each other.
Contributors and Attributions
Connie Rye (East Mississippi Community College), Robert Wise (University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh), Vladimir Jurukovski (Suffolk County Community College), Jean DeSaix (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Jung Choi (Georgia Institute of Technology), Yael Avissar (Rhode Island College) among other contributing authors. Original content by OpenStax (CC BY 4.0; Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/185cbf87-c72...firstname.lastname@example.org).