Published: Nov. 30, 2006

David C. Clarke, Meredith D. Betterton, and Xuedong Liu (2006). IEE Proceedings Systems Biology 153 (6). Download.

Transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta) signalling is an important regulator of cellular growth and differentiation. The principal intracellular mediators of TGFbeta signalling are the Smad proteins, which upon TGFbeta stimulation accumulate in the nucleus and regulate the transcription of target genes. To investigate the mechanisms of Smad nuclear accumulation, we developed a simple mathematical model of canonical Smad signalling. The model was built using both published data and our experimentally determined cellular Smad concentrations (isoforms 2, 3 and 4). We found in mink lung epithelial cells that Smad2 was present in similar amounts to Smad4, whereas both were in excess of Smad3. Variation of the model parameters and statistical analysis showed that Smad nuclear accumulation is most sensitive to parameters affecting the rates of R-Smad phosphorylation and dephosphorylation and Smad complex formation/dissociation in the nucleus. Deleting Smad4 from the model revealed that rate-limiting phospho-R-Smad dephosphorylation could be an important mechanism for Smad nuclear accumulation. Furthermore, we observed that binding factors constitutively localised to the nucleus do not efficiently mediate Smad nuclear accumulation, if dephosphorylation is rapid. We therefore conclude that an imbalance in the rates of R-Smad phosphorylation and dephosphorylation is likely an important mechanism of Smad nuclear accumulation during TGFbeta signalling.