Effective intercellular communication distances are determined by the relative time constants for cyto/chemokine secretion and diffusion

Karl Francis, Bernhard O. Palsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Citations (Scopus)


A cell's ability to effectively communicate with a neighboring cell is essential for tissue function and ultimately for the organism to which it belongs. One important mode of intercellular communication is the release of soluble cyto- and chemokines. Once secreted, these signaling molecules diffuse through the surrounding medium and eventually bind to neighboring cell's receptors whereby the signal is received. This mode of communication is governed both by physicochemical transport processes and cellular secretion rates, which in turn are determined by genetic and biochemical processes. The characteristics of transport processes have been known for some time, and information on the genetic and biochemical determinants of cellular function is rapidly growing. Simultaneous quantitative analysis of the two is required to systematically evaluate the nature and limitations of intercellular signaling. The present study uses a solitary cell model to estimate effective communication distances over which a single cell can meaningfully propagate a soluble signal. The analysis reveals that: (i) this process is governed by a single, key, dimensionless group that is a ratio of biological parameters and physicochemical determinants; (ii) this ratio has a maximal value; (iii) for realistic values of the parameters contained in this dimensionless group, it is estimated that the domain that a single cell can effectively communicate in is ≃250 μm in size; and (iv) the communication within this domain takes place in 10-30 minutes. These results have fundamental implications for interpretation of organ physiology and for engineering tissue function ex vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12258-12262
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 1997

Other keywords

  • Bioreactor design
  • Cell signaling
  • Tissue engineering


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