Cell-to-cell signaling has become a significant issue in radiation biology due to experimental evidence, accumulated primarily since the early 1990s, of radiation-induced bystander effects. Several candidate mediators involved in cell-to-cell communication have been investigated and proposed as being responsible for this phenomenon, but the current investigation techniques (both theoretical and experimental) of the mechanisms involved, due to the particular set-up of each experiment, result in experimental data that often are not directly comparable. In this study, a comprehensive approach was adopted to describe cell-to-cell communication (focusing on cytokine signaling) and its modulation by external agents such as ionizing radiation. The aim was also to provide integrated theoretical instruments and experimental data to help in understanding the peculiarities of in vitro experiments. Theoretical/modeling activities were integrated with experimental measurements by (1) redesigning a cybernetic model (proposed in its original form in the 1950s) to frame cell-to-cell communication processes, (2) implementing and developing a mathematical model, and (3) designing and carrying out experiments to quantify key parameters involved in intercellular signaling (focusing as a pilot study on the release and decay of IL-6 molecules and their modulation by radiation). This formalization provides an interpretative framework for understanding the intercellular signaling and in particular for focusing on the study of cell-to-cell communication in a "step-by-step" approach. Under this model, the complex phenomenon of signal transmission was reduced where possible into independent processes to investigate them separately, providing an evaluation of the role of cell communication to guarantee and maintain the robustness of the in vitro experimental systems against the effects of perturbations.
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