Cellular perception and misperception: Internal models for decision-making shaped by evolutionary experience

UMMS Affiliation

Program in Systems Biology; Program in Molecular Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Cell Biology | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Systems Biology


Cells live in dynamic environments that necessitate perpetual adaptation. Since cells have limited resources to monitor external inputs, they are required to maximize the information content of perceived signals. This challenge is not unique to microscopic life: Animals use senses to perceive inputs and adequately respond. Research showed that sensory-perception is actively shaped by learning and expectation allowing internal cognitive models to "fill in the blanks" in face of limited information. We propose that cells employ analogous strategies and use internal models shaped through the long process of evolutionary adaptation. Given this perspective, we postulate that cells are prone to "misperceptions," analogous to visual illusions, leading them to incorrectly decode patterns of inputs that lie outside of their evolutionary experience. Mapping cellular misperception can serve as a fundamental approach for dissecting regulatory networks and could be harnessed to modulate cell behavior, a potentially new avenue for therapy.


adaptation, cell response, evolution, perception, regulation, signaling

DOI of Published Version



Bioessays. 2016 Sep;38(9):845-9. doi: 10.1002/bies.201600090. Epub 2016 Jul 27. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID