Many reactions within the cell occur only in specific intracellular regions. Such local reaction networks give rise to microdomains of activated signaling components. The dynamics of microdomains can be visualized by live cell imaging. Computational models using partial differential equations provide mechanistic insights into the interacting factors that control microdomain dynamics. The mathematical models show that, for membrane-initiated signaling, the ratio of the surface area of the plasma membrane to the volume of the cytoplasm, the topology of the signaling network, the negative regulators, and kinetic properties of key components together define microdomain dynamics. Thus, patterns of locally restricted signaling reaction systems can be considered an emergent property of the cell.