Receptor crosstalk improves concentration sensing of multiple ligands

Martín Carballo-Pacheco, Jonathan Desponds, Tatyana Gavrilchenko, Andreas Mayer, Roshan Prizak, Gautam Reddy, Ilya Nemenman, Thierry Mora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Cells need to reliably sense external ligand concentrations to achieve various biological functions such as chemotaxis or signaling. The molecular recognition of ligands by surface receptors is degenerate in many systems, leading to crosstalk between ligand-receptor pairs. Crosstalk is often thought of as a deviation from optimal specific recognition, as the binding of noncognate ligands can interfere with the detection of the receptor's cognate ligand, possibly leading to a false triggering of a downstream signaling pathway. Here we quantify the optimal precision of sensing the concentrations of multiple ligands by a collection of promiscuous receptors. We demonstrate that crosstalk can improve precision in concentration sensing and discrimination tasks. To achieve superior precision, the additional information about ligand concentrations contained in short binding events of the noncognate ligand should be exploited. We present a proofreading scheme to realize an approximate estimation of multiple ligand concentrations that reaches a precision close to the derived optimal bounds. Our results help rationalize the observed ubiquity of receptor crosstalk in molecular sensing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number022423
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 26 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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