Mathematical modeling identifies Smad nucleocytoplasmic shuttling as a dynamic signal-interpreting system

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 May 6;105(18):6608-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0710134105. Epub 2008 Apr 28.


TGF-beta-induced Smad signal transduction from the membrane into the nucleus is not linear and unidirectional, but rather a dynamic network that couples Smad phosphorylation and dephosphorylation through continuous nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of Smads. To understand the quantitative behavior of this network, we have developed a tightly constrained computational model, exploiting the interplay between mathematical modeling and experimental strategies. The model simultaneously reproduces four distinct datasets with excellent accuracy and provides mechanistic insights into how the network operates. We use the model to make predictions about the outcome of fluorescence recovery after photobleaching experiments and the behavior of a functionally impaired Smad2 mutant, which we then verify experimentally. Successful model performance strongly supports the hypothesis of a dynamic maintenance of Smad nuclear accumulation during active signaling. The presented work establishes Smad nucleocytoplasmic shuttling as a dynamic network that flexibly transmits quantitative features of the extracellular TGF-beta signal, such as its duration and intensity, into the nucleus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / drug effects
  • Amino Acid Substitution / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / drug effects
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Mutant Proteins / metabolism
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects
  • Smad2 Protein / metabolism*
  • Smad4 Protein / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology


  • Mutant Proteins
  • Smad2 Protein
  • Smad4 Protein
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases