Shape is an indicator of cell health. But how is the information in shape decoded? We hypothesize that decoding occurs by modulation of signaling through changes in plasma membrane curvature. Using analytical approaches and numerical simulations, we studied how elongation of cell shape affects plasma membrane signaling. Mathematical analyses reveal transient accumulation of activated receptors at regions of higher curvature with increasing cell eccentricity. This distribution of activated receptors is periodic, following the Mathieu function, and it arises from local imbalance between reaction and diffusion of soluble ligands and receptors in the plane of the membrane. Numerical simulations show that transient microdomains of activated receptors amplify signals to downstream protein kinases. For growth factor receptor pathways, increasing cell eccentricity elevates the levels of activated cytoplasmic Src and nuclear MAPK1,2. These predictions were experimentally validated by changing cellular eccentricity, showing that shape is a locus of retrievable information storage in cells.
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