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Sci. STKE, 21 December 2004
Vol. 2004, Issue 264, p. pe55
The Strength of Indecisiveness: Oscillatory Behavior for Better Cell Fate Determination
Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, 200 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Oscillatory behavior is very common in many cellular responses. Recently, two pathways involved in response to cell stress, the p53 and nuclear factor kappa B signaling pathways, have been found to show oscillatory behavior. At first sight, there would seem to be no reason for signaling pathways of this type to require oscillations. Recent single-cell studies indicate that oscillatory behavior may be used to allow repeated testing for the continued existence of a signal. I argue that oscillations increase cellular response sensitivity and flexibility by allowing the cell to integrate the results of many periodical evaluations of the signal before making an eventual decision about cell fate, thus reducing the risk of premature commitment.