Intracellular signaling induced by peptide growth factors can stimulate secretion of these molecules into the extracellular medium. In autocrine and paracrine networks, this can establish a positive feedback loop between ligand binding and ligand release. When coupled to intercellular communication by autocrine ligands, this positive feedback can generate constant-speed traveling waves. To demonstrate that, we propose a mechanistic model of autocrine relay systems. The model is relevant to the physiology of epithelial layers and to a number of in vitro experimental formats. Using asymptotic and numerical tools, we find that traveling waves in autocrine relays exist and have a number of unusual properties, such as an optimal ligand binding strength necessary for the maximal speed of propagation. We compare our results to recent observations of autocrine and paracrine systems and discuss the steps toward experimental tests of our predictions.
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