A synthetic mammalian network to compute population borders based on engineered reciprocal cell-cell communication

BMC Syst Biol. 2015 Dec 30;9:97. doi: 10.1186/s12918-015-0252-1.


Background: Multicellular organisms depend on the exchange of information between specialized cells. This communication is often difficult to decipher in its native context, but synthetic biology provides tools to engineer well-defined systems that allow the convenient study and manipulation of intercellular communication networks.

Results: Here, we present the first mammalian synthetic network for reciprocal cell-cell communication to compute the border between a sender/receiver and a processing cell population. The two populations communicate via L-tryptophan and interleukin-4 to highlight the population border by the production of a fluorescent protein. The sharpness of that visualized edge can be adjusted by modulating key parameters of the network.

Conclusions: We anticipate that this network will on the one hand be a useful tool to gain deeper insights into the mechanisms of tissue formation in nature and will on the other hand contribute to our ability to engineer artificial tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Engineering*
  • Interleukin-4 / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Models, Biological
  • Synthetic Biology / methods*
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Interleukin-4
  • Tryptophan