we simulate new research in cellular communication by transposing intercellular communication into music.

A Musical Representation

In 2017 our Caltech colleagues identified multiplex molecular communications between cells. They found that the same signals may cause different responses depending on the cell’s type. This research suggests new classes of biotherapies that send discordant signals to cancerous cells without affecting healthy cells nearby.

There are two parts to this communication: receptor and ligand. Each receptor is a “dimer” – a complex of two single proteins. The ligands are promiscuous: they try to bind with both parts of each receptor. Ligands may bind with either side of the dimer, both, or neither. The quality of the bond informs activation pathways within the cell.

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This three-part system suggests rich tonal blends. Two musicians play each part of the receptor. They play tones five notes apart. The ligands play individual tones in an erratic rhythm that isn’t in time with the receptors. Successful binding is consonant and coordinates the ligand’s rhythm with the receptors.