Definition of a cellular signal

Richard Norman rsnorman at
Mon Sep 18 20:59:47 EST 2000

"Vladimir Matveev" <vm_spb at> wrote in message
news:8q4rn0$16r$1 at
> Everybody in cell biology speak now about cellular SIGNALs. But who
> knows the DEFINITION of a signal? Who given the definition? Where it
> was published? Please, help me find the definition in the literature.
> Can YOU give the definition?
> Thank everybody in advance.

Are you interested in the history or in what cell signaling is?

For the definition, it refers to the process by which one cell can
communicate with or control another.  Now it usually means
the method of communication where a molecule from one cell binds
to a receptor in the other to initiate the control process.  The usual
example is hormonal control.  For details, see Alberts et al,
Molecular Biology of the Cell which has nice chapter on the subject.

For the history, a cell biologist, biochemist, and physiologist
in my department recall that it was a term certainly in use in
the 80's and possibly earlier.  I (the physiologist) thought it
arose from Sutherland's work on 2nd messengers in the late 60's
and 70's,  but the biochemist thought it might have derived also
from the signals involved in contact inhibition.  All of us agreed
that the phrase is so descriptive of the general phenomenon
that it was not really a "new word" requiring a citation or definition.

I did find a 1969 edition of Dowben's "General Physiology, a
Molecular Approach" where there was no mention of the concept.
All my other ancient texts were long since discarded so I can't
trace a time line.

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