Intercellular signaling has an important role in organism development, but not all communication occurs using the same mechanism. Here, we analyze the energy efficiency of intercellular signaling by two canonical mechanisms: diffusion of signaling molecules and direct transport mediated by signaling cellular protrusions. We find that the direct transport is favored over the diffusion when transporting a large amount of signaling molecules. There is a critical number of signaling molecules at which the efficiency of the two mechanisms are the same. The critical number is small when the distance between cells is far, which helps explain why protrusion-based mechanisms are observed in long-range cellular communications.
H Kim, Y Mori, and JB Plotkin, “Optimality of intercellular signaling: direct transport versus diffusion,” Submitted (2022) [arXiv]