Principles of Cell Signalling

Dr Taufiq Rahman


The ability to sense one’s environment and respond to it is one of the most fundamental properties common to all living organisms. Single-celled organisms such as bacteria and yeasts, are able to seek out nutrients, avoid toxins or harmful materials, and change their shape, movement, metabolic activity and gene expression depending on the environmental conditions. In multi-cellular organisms (like us – the humans, our pets or rodents etc.) and plants, even more subtle and sophisticated interactions between cells and the external environment are needed. In spite of being physically insulated by an oily membrane (or a more rigid cell wall, as in plants), individual cells are able to sense and integrate vast amounts of information and use it to make decisions about whether to grow, divide, migrate, adopt a particular shape, grow older or even die. Without these decisions, an organism can neither develop nor maintain its integrity as a coherent living entity. Thus the ability to communicate with one another and with the external environment and to generate appropriate responses is at the core of sustaining life. The whole process is known as signal transduction, often simply referred to as cell signalling – it is everywhere in the living world and it has been there since the inception of life. Cell signalling is essentially very complex, yet it can be very fascinating and rewarding to know how normally cells strictly operate with precision, punctuality and discipline – analogous to a busy airport or an underground tube station. This is what keeps us, and other living beings, alive and kicking. Any abnormality in cell signalling (complete lack, inadequate or excess of signalling) leads to chaos within i.e. we all suffer from various kinds of diseases.

This course introduces students to the basic components and properties of the major cell signalling pathways (there are many and the list continues to grow!), with special emphasis on how they are switched on and off. Attention is also focused on their variation in time and space that determine how information is encoded and directed to precise sub-cellular locations. Lastly, how these signalling pathways are utilized to regulate diverse cellular processes at every stage of life (from fertilization to cell death) will be discussed. Since aberrant cell signalling underlies almost every disease, possible molecular targets for therapeutic interventions will also be highlighted during the course.

Intended Audience

This course is aimed at a broad audience of students, particularly from Biological/Biomedical Sciences (including those considering medical school) interested in furthering their understanding of how cells regulate and coordinate their core activities.

Previous Knowledge

Knowledge of Biology/Biochemistry is required for this course. Chemistry will be an added advantage, but it is not essential.