Molecular noise restricts the ability of an individual cell to resolve input signals of different strengths and gather information about the external environment. Transmitting information through complex signaling networks with redundancies can overcome this limitation. We developed an integrative theoretical and experimental framework, based on the formalism of information theory, to quantitatively predict and measure the amount of information transduced by molecular and cellular networks. Analyzing tumor necrosis factor (TNF) signaling revealed that individual TNF signaling pathways transduce information sufficient for accurate binary decisions, and an upstream bottleneck limits the information gained via multiple integrated pathways. Negative feedback to this bottleneck could both alleviate and enhance its limiting effect, despite decreasing noise. Bottlenecks likewise constrain information attained by networks signaling through multiple genes or cells.
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