Mathematical modeling of K-Ras nanocluster formation on the plasma membrane

Tianhai Tian, Sarah J. Plowman, Robert G. Parton, Yoel Kloog, John F. Hancock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


K-Ras functions as a critical node in the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway that regulates key cellular functions including proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. Following growth factor receptor activation K-Ras.GTP forms nanoclusters on the plasma membrane through interaction with the scaffold protein galectin-3. The generation of nanoclus-ters is essential for high fidelity signal transduction via the MAPK pathway. To explore the mechanisms underlying K-Ras.GTP nanocluster formation, we developed a mathematical model of K-Ras-galectin-3 interactions. We designed a computational method to calculate protein collision rates based on experimentally determined protein diffusion rates and diffusion mechanisms and used a genetic algorithm to search the values of key model parameters. The optimal estimated model parameters were vali-dated using experimental data. The resulting model accurately replicates critical features of K-Ras nanoclustering, including a fixed ratio of clustered K-Ras.GTP to monomeric K-Ras.GTP that is independent of the concentration of K-Ras.GTP. The model reproduces experimental results showing that the cytosolic level of galectin-3 determines the magnitude of the K-Ras.GTP clus-tered fraction and illustrates that nanoclustering is regulated by key nonequilibrium processes. Our kinetic model identifies a potential biophysical mechanism for K-Ras nanoclustering and suggests general principles that may be relevant for other plasma-membrane-localized proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-543
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 Jul 2010


FundersFunder number
National Institute of General Medical SciencesR01GM066717
Australian Research Council
United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation


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