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The complexity in intracellular signaling mechanisms relevant for the conquest of many diseases resides at different levels of organization with scales ranging from the subatomic realm relevant to catalytic functions of enzymes to the mesoscopic realm relevant to the cooperative association of molecular assemblies and membrane processes. Consequently, the challenge of representing and quantifying functional or dysfunctional modules within the networks remains due to the current limitations in our understanding of mesoscopic biology, i.e., how the components assemble into functional molecular ensembles. A multiscale approach is necessary to treat a hierarchy of interactions ranging from molecular (nm, ns) to signaling (μm, ms) length and time scales, which necessitates the development and application of specialized modeling tools. Complementary to multiscale experimentation (encompassing structural biology, mechanistic enzymology, cell biology, and single molecule studies) multiscale modeling offers a powerful and quantitative alternative for the study of functional intracellular signaling modules. Here, we describe the application of a multiscale approach to signaling mediated by the ErbB1 receptor which constitutes a network hub for the cell’s proliferative, migratory, and survival programs. Through our multiscale model, we mechanistically describe how point-mutations in the ErbB1 receptor can profoundly alter signaling characteristics leading to the onset of oncogenic transformations. Specifically, we describe how the point mutations induce cascading fragility mechanisms at the molecular scale as well as at the scale of the signaling network to preferentially activate the survival factor Akt. We provide a quantitative explanation for how the hallmark of preferential Akt activation in cell-lines harboring the constitutively active mutant ErbB1 receptors causes these cell-lines to be addicted to ErbB1-mediated generation of survival signals. Consequently, inhibition of ErbB1 activity leads to a remarkable therapeutic response in the addicted cell lines.
Date Posted: 27 July 2010
This document has been peer reviewed.