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5 Ways to Make Signal Transduction a More Approachable Topic for Students

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster

Introduction: Signal Transduction

All living organisms can receive and transfer signals to their environment. These signals can come into the body in five ways: odor, light, heat, touch, and sound. The cells present in the body can also receive signals from other cells. These signals between the cells are important to keep cells functioning. The signals are also effective for the initiation of different processes such as cell differentiation and cell division.

Signal transduction is the process of transferring a signal through a cell. If the signals are transferred through the cell with the help of proteins, these are called receptors. The receptors need a chemical, electrical, or physical signal for transferring process. Chemical signals can be produced by living organisms to control their body. Chemical signals are commonly known as ligands.

Some aspects of signal transduction can be difficult for students to understand. At Labster, we compiled all the reasons that make signal transduction a challenging topic for students to learn. Then, we provide five different ways to make this topic easier for students to remember. In the end, we will convince you why a virtual lab simulation is effective for teachers to explain difficult topics like signal transduction to their students. 

signal transduction

Figure: An image of signal transduction cascade from Labster theory. 

Why signal transduction can be tricky to learn

Three main reasons make learning signal transduction a difficult topic for students.

1. It feels abstract

The abstract terms are difficult for students to learn because they cannot see them in reality. The signal transduction takes place at the cell level. The cell is very small in size, so it is difficult for students to see the signal transduction through the naked eye. Moreover, you need to learn about the protein receptors, second messenger, protein kinase, and phosphorylation process. These all are abstract concepts, so it is difficult for students to remember.

2. You need to remember complex pathways

In signal transduction, students need to remember the pathways of signal transduction. There are three main pathways of signal transduction; RTK pathways, gated ion channels, and GPCR pathways. These pathways can be helpful to directly regulate the protein or bind with an enzyme to regulate the process. It is hard for students to remember the complex pathways of signal transduction.

3. Remember several enzyme names

There are several enzymes used in the pathways of signal transduction. For instance, adenylyl cyclase is an enzyme that can initiate the signal transduction cascade. Basically, this enzyme is a membrane-bounded enzyme that can activate through G protein molecules. Adenylyl cyclase has the ability to create cyclic AMP molecules. It can help in the activation of protein kinase. Other enzymes are tyrosine, phosphatase, guanylate cyclase, and serine kinase. These enzymes have different functions in the signal transduction pathways. So, students do not like learning signal transduction because it is a complex and time-consuming topic.

5 ways to make signal transduction a more approachable topic to understand

Since we are familiar with the complexities students experience during learning signal transduction. There are five ways to make this topic easier and simpler for students to learn.

1. Stages of cell signaling

When students learn about signal transduction, it is important to have basic knowledge about the stages of cell signaling. There are three main stages of cell signaling.

  1. Reception

  2. Transduction

  3. Response

Reception: In this stage, a cell can detect signals from the outside environment. Receptor proteins are present on the surface of the cell. A ligand can detect the signal when binding with the receptor protein.

Transduction: When a signal is bound with the receptor proteins, it performs some changes in it. The change in the receptor protein can initiates the process of transduction. Basically, signal transduction is done in a pathway that can complete in several steps.

Response: When signal transduction occurs, the cell is triggered by a specific response.

2. Interesting facts about the signal transduction pathways

When a chemical signal is attached to the protein receptor, it can perform some changes in the protein receptor or surface of the cell. It can create a new shape that can allow the protein receptor to bind with other molecules. The changes in the receptor protein can take place in multiple series. For instance, a protein receptor initiates the signal molecule in the cell. This signal molecule can further initiate another molecule in the cell. There are four classes of signal transduction.

  1. Ligand-gated ion channel

  2. Nuclear receptor

  3. 7 TM receptors

  4. Enzyme-linked receptor

The nuclear receptors are present intracellular, which means that these receptors are present within the cell. It can change gene transcription. 7 TM receptors are present within the cell to G proteins. Enzyme-linked receptors have the ability to penetrate into the plasma membrane and are associated with the enzymes.

In signal transduction, the addition and removal of the phosphate group help to activate the proteins. Protein kinase is an enzyme mainly used to add phosphate groups through ATP to the protein receptor. They can create the process of phosphorylation cascade. The phosphorylation cascade causes a chain reaction in which an enzyme can phosphorylate the other enzyme and it can further phosphorylate another enzyme. The second messenger is small, nonprotein ions that act as ligands and help in signal transduction. An example of a second messenger is cAMP and calcium ions.           

Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs)

Figure: An image of the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) from the Labster theroy. 

3. Functions of signal transduction

It is important to explain the functions of signal transduction to the students. As signal transduction is the transferring of signals from the external environment to the internal side of the cell. So, there are several important functions of signal transduction in living organisms.

The main function of signal transduction is the maintenance of the physiological balance of the body. Therefore, it can help to balance and evaluate the neuroendocrine, allergens, and toxins.  

  • Signal transduction can be helpful for the activation of several pathways in living organisms. It includes cell division, cell differentiation, cell death, cell proliferation, and cell metabolism.

  • In the past few years, signal transduction is used in the area of modern drug research.

  • The processes of cell growth and differentiation in healthy cells are controlled by the immune system. But when a person is ill, the damage-causing signals can be received by the body.

  • Singal transduction is a modern therapy to detect cancer, inflammation, arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, and atherosclerosis. In this process, the proliferation of damages can be examined for this purpose. These days, signal transduction therapy is widely used to detect cancer inhibitors in the body.

  • Another important function of signal transduction is it can help to regulate insulin. Insulin is sued for the regulation of glucose in the blood. Signal transduction can help to increase glucose transportation within the cell. The hormones pathways of signal transduction can also reduce the activity of enzymes that can produce glucose in the liver. Therefore, signal transduction can help regulate the production and use of glucose.

4. Seeing is believing

Color diagrams play an important role in understanding complex topics like signal transduction. The diverse colors make the difficult topic easier for students to understand. After seeing the color images, the students can memorize signal transduction more appropriately. In signal transduction, students need to learn the signal transduction process, pathways, and types that can be more effectively learned through visual diagrams. The visual representation is helpful for students to remember compared to the learning from the textbook.

The image presented below shows the western blot scanning software. This image is effective for the understanding of western blot. The western blot is mainly used for the identification and separation of proteins. 

signal transduction western blot

Figure: An image shows the western blot scanning software from Labster virtual laboratory of signal transduction how cells communicate. 

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

The virtual lab simulation is a great method to explain the difficult topic to the students. At Labster, we provide advanced 3D virtual simulations that consist of gamification elements like storytelling and a scoring system. It enhances the interest of students to understand the topic more appropriately. Generally, Labster virtual simulations are designed for teachers to convey difficult topics to their students.

Labster provides two simulations on signal transduction that aresignal transduction how to cells communicate and signal transduction choose the best cancer inhibitor. After using these simulations, students can understand the principle of intracellular signal transduction, receptor tyrosine kinase cell signaling, analysis of dysregulated signal transduction in the human cancer cell, involvement of VEGER in human breast cancer, and the connection between the angiogenesis and tumor growth.

Signal Transduction: Choose the best cancer inhibitor GIF

Check out Labster signal transduction how cells communicate and signal transduction choose the best cancer inhibitor simulations here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual lab simulations with your students. 

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