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Biology LibreTexts

9: Cell Communication

  • 9.0: Prelude 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.
  • 9.1: 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.
  • 9.2: 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.
  • 9.3: 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.
  • 9.4: 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.


  • 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. The OpenStax College name, OpenStax College logo, OpenStax College book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the creative commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University. For questions regarding this license, please contact Download for free at