We present a novel formulation for biochemical reaction networks in the context of signal transduction. The model consists of input-output transfer functions, which are derived from differential equations, using stable equilibria. We select a set of 'source' species, which receive input signals. Signals are transmitted to all other species in the system (the 'target' species) with a specific delay and transmission strength. The delay is computed as the maximal reaction time until a stable equilibrium for the target species is reached, in the context of all other reactions in the system. The transmission strength is the concentration change of the target species. The computed input-output transfer functions can be stored in a matrix, fitted with parameters, and recalled to build discrete dynamical models. By separating reaction time and concentration we can greatly simplify the model, circumventing typical problems of complex dynamical systems. The transfer function transformation can be applied to mass-action kinetic models of signal transduction. The paper shows that this approach yields significant insight, while remaining an executable dynamical model for signal transduction. In particular we can deconstruct the complex system into local transfer functions between individual species. As an example, we examine modularity and signal integration using a published model of striatal neural plasticity. The modules that emerge correspond to a known biological distinction between calcium-dependent and cAMP-dependent pathways. We also found that overall interconnectedness depends on the magnitude of input, with high connectivity at low input and less connectivity at moderate to high input. This general result, which directly follows from the properties of individual transfer functions, contradicts notions of ubiquitous complexity by showing input-dependent signal transmission inactivation.
Scheler, G. (2013). Transfer Functions for Protein Signal Transduction: Application to a Model of Striatal Neural Plasticity. PLoS ONE, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055762