Six distinct NFκB signaling codons convey discrete information to distinguish stimuli and enable appropriate macrophage responses

Immunity. 2021 May 11;54(5):916-930.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2021.04.011.


Macrophages initiate inflammatory responses via the transcription factor NFκB. The temporal pattern of NFκB activity determines which genes are expressed and thus, the type of response that ensues. Here, we examined how information about the stimulus is encoded in the dynamics of NFκB activity. We generated an mVenus-RelA reporter mouse line to enable high-throughput live-cell analysis of primary macrophages responding to host- and pathogen-derived stimuli. An information-theoretic workflow identified six dynamical features-termed signaling codons-that convey stimulus information to the nucleus. In particular, oscillatory trajectories were a hallmark of responses to cytokine but not pathogen-derived stimuli. Single-cell imaging and RNA sequencing of macrophages from a mouse model of Sjögren's syndrome revealed inappropriate responses to stimuli, suggestive of confusion of two NFκB signaling codons. Thus, the dynamics of NFκB signaling classify immune threats through six signaling codons, and signal confusion based on defective codon deployment may underlie the etiology of some inflammatory diseases.

Keywords: Hopf bifurcation analysis; immune sentinel cells; live cell imaging; machine learning classification; mathematical modeling; mutual information; pathogen-associated molecular patterns; response specificity; signaling dynamics; tumor necrosis factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • NF-kappa B / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / genetics
  • Transcription Factor RelA / genetics


  • Codon
  • Cytokines
  • NF-kappa B
  • Transcription Factor RelA