Balancing specificity, sensitivity, and speed of ligand discrimination by zero-order ultraspecificity
AbstractSpecific interactions between receptors and their target ligands in the presence of nontarget ligands are crucial for biological processes such as T cell ligand discrimination. To discriminate between the target and nontarget ligands, cells have to increase specificity to the target ligands by amplifying the small differences in affinity among ligands. In addition, sensitivity to the ligand concentration and quick discrimination are also important to detect low amounts of target ligands and facilitate fast cellular decision making after ligand recognition. In this work we propose a mechanism for nonlinear specificity amplification (ultraspecificity) based on zero-order saturating reactions, which was originally proposed to explain nonlinear sensitivity amplification (ultrasensitivity) to the ligand concentration. In contrast to the previously proposed proofreading mechanisms that amplify the specificity by a multistep reaction, our model can produce an optimal balance of specificity, sensitivity, and quick discrimination. Furthermore, we show that a model for insensitivity to a large number of nontarget ligands can be naturally derived from a model with the zero-order ultraspecificity. The zero-order ultraspecificity, therefore, may provide an alternative way to understand ligand discrimination from the viewpoint of nonlinear properties in biochemical reactions.