Comparing Apples and Oranges: Fold-Change Detection of Multiple Simultaneous Inputs

Yuval Hart, Avraham E. Mayo, Oren Shoval, Uri Alon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Sensory systems often detect multiple types of inputs. For example, a receptor in a cell-signaling system often binds multiple kinds of ligands, and sensory neurons can respond to different types of stimuli. How do sensory systems compare these different kinds of signals? Here, we consider this question in a class of sensory systems - including bacterial chemotaxis- which have a property known as fold-change detection: their output dynamics, including amplitude and response time, depends only on the relative changes in signal, rather than absolute changes, over a range of several decades of signal. We analyze how fold-change detection systems respond to multiple signals, using mathematical models. Suppose that a step of fold F1 is made in input 1, together with a step of F2 in input 2. What total response does the system provide? We show that when both input signals impact the same receptor with equal number of binding sites, the integrated response is multiplicative: the response dynamics depend only on the product of the two fold changes, F1F2. When the inputs bind the same receptor with different number of sites n1 and n2, the dynamics depend on a product of power laws, F1n1F2n2. Thus, two input signals which vary over time in an inverse way can lead to no response. When the two inputs affect two different receptors, other types of integration may be found and generally the system is not constrained to respond according to the product of the fold-change of each signal. These predictions can be readily tested experimentally, by providing cells with two simultaneously varying input signals. The present study suggests how cells can compare apples and oranges, namely by comparing each to its own background level, and then multiplying these two fold-changes.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere57455
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


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