UK MMSG Signalling Pathways Follow-up Meeting 2012

The meeting took place at Imperial College, on Tuesday 24th January 2012, as part of the UK Mathematics-in-Medicine Study Groups series. This was a follow-up meeting, inspired by the problem Spatial and temporal dynamics of signalling pathways, which was studied at the UK MMSG Reading 2011.

Rob Krams gave an introductory talk on the biology of the problem, and the final presentation from the study group was given again to remind ourselves of the problem. The cytoplasm of a cell is a crowded environment, meaning that substances are transported more slowly through it. We aim to develop a homogenised model to calculate an effective diffusion coefficient, which assumes the lengthscale of the obstacles in the cytoplasm are much less than the lengthscale over which substances are to be transported. We can also use the model to explore different geometries of the obstacles in the cytoplasm. Most of the necessary model parameters have already been found, but finding the remaining ones is another priority, which will be done either by an extensive literature search or by using experimental results.

During the meeting, it was also suggested that the shape and alignment of the cell could be important. Actin filaments and microtubules are structural proteins making up the cytoskeleton, the main constituent of the cytoplasm. Could it be possible that this, along with the other organelles of the cell, is responsible for the crowding effect? We again decided to proceed with a homgenisation approach, in which we model the cytoplasm as a grid-like structure consisting of periodic units containing actin filaments that block the path of the molecules (mostly MAPK) moving through it. The modelling will give new insights into how anisotropy, cell alignment and crowding all influence the diffusion of MAPK.

Experimental work will be crucial for validating our model and so continued collaboration with Rob and plans for further follow up meetings will pave the way to a publication.