Systems analysis of MAPK signal transduction

Essays Biochem. 2008:45:95-107. doi: 10.1042/BSE0450095.


For more than a decade, the MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) cascade has been studied using mathematical modelling and quantitative experimentation [1]. The MAPK cascade relays the presence of extracellular stimuli such as growth hormones to the nucleus and controls the expression of hundreds of genes. MAPKs control major cell fate decisions such as proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis, mainly by inducing alterations in gene expression. In this chapter, we discuss how systems biology analysis provides insights into the functioning of this cascade. We show how this pathway assists the cell in responding properly to extracellular cues by filtering out sub-threshold stimuli, while efficiently transmitting physiologically relevant inputs. Several different receptors signal through the MAPK pathway even though they elicit opposite biological responses, thus raising the question of how specificity is achieved in MAPK signalling. Experimental studies revealed that specific biological responses are encoded by quantitative aspects of the MAPK signal such as amplitude or duration. We discuss mechanisms that enable the pathway to generate quantitatively different signals, and also explain how different signals are interpreted by the downstream gene expression machinery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Systems Biology*


  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases