Original Article

Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 69, Issue 6, pp 1943-1978

First online:

Mathematical Model for Spatial Segregation of the Rho-Family GTPases Based on Inhibitory Crosstalk

  • Alexandra JilkineAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Institute of Applied Mathematics, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Athanasius F. M. MaréeAffiliated withTheoretical Biology/Bioinformatics, Utrecht University
  • , Leah Edelstein-KeshetAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Institute of Applied Mathematics, University of British Columbia

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Cdc42, Rac, and Rho are small GTPases known to play a central role in signal transduction to the actin cytoskeleton. These proteins regulate cell motility, by affecting nucleation, uncapping, and depolymerization of actin filaments, and acto-myosin contractility. Studies of crosstalk and mutual feedbacks in these three proteins have led to a number of proposals for their interaction. At the same time, observations of the spatio-temporal dynamics of Rho-family proteins give evidence of spatial polarization and mutual exclusion between Cdc42/Rac and Rho. In this paper, we formulate a mathematical model to account for such observations, based on the known underlying biology of these proteins. We first investigate which of the crosstalk schemes proposed in the literature is consistent with observed dynamics, and then derive a simple model that can correctly describe these dynamics (assuming crosstalk is mediated via Rho GEFs). We show that cooperativity is an essential ingredient in the interactions of the proteins. The co-occurrence of a stable rest state with the possibility of fast spatial segregation can be related to bistability in a set of underlying ODEs in which the inactive forms of these proteins are fixed at a constant level. We show that the fast diffusion of the inactive forms is essential for stabilizing the transition fronts in the PDE formulation of the model, leading to robust spatial polarization, rather than traveling waves.


Cdc42 Rac Rho Rho-family GTPases Cell polarization Molecular switch Spatiotemporal distribution Mathematical model