Finding the way: directional sensing and cell polarization through Ras signalling

Novartis Found Symp. 2005;269:73-87; discussion 87-91, 223-30.


Chemotactic eukaryotic cells have the unique ability to sense a shallow extracellular chemoattractant gradient and translate it into a steep intracellular gradient. For example, phosphoinositide-3,4,5-trisphosphate (PIP3), the product of phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K), is accumulated at the leading edge but not the back of a polarized chemotaxing cell. This is partially controlled by the reciprocal, preferential localization of PI3K and PTEN to the membrane at the front and back, respectively. However, upstream events that control the localized activation and localization of PI3K and PTEN remain unclear. Recent findings indicate that Ras is important for activation of the PI3K pathway and regulation of directed cell movement and cell polarity. Ras is activated at the leading edge, and this local activation occurs without asymmetric localization of PI3K and PTEN or the F-actin cytoskeleton. In contrast, P13K localization is driven by F-actin polymerization. Thus, Ras functions as an essential part of the cell's compass acting upstream of PI3K while reciprocal localization of PI3K and PTEN amplify the PIP3 gradient, rather than create it. These observations suggest a positive feedback loop to amplify an initial PIP3 gradient in which localized F-actin polymerization recruits cytosolic PI3K to the leading edge, where it is activated by Ras to locally produce PIP3 that induces F-actin polymerization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Dictyostelium / metabolism
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*
  • ras Proteins / metabolism*


  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates
  • phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-triphosphate
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • GTP-Binding Proteins
  • ras Proteins