Cell Signalling

The general principles of cell communication involve a sequence of processes by which a cell detects and responds to the signals in its surroundings or within itself. Here, let’s learn more about the cell communication process.
Table of Contents

What is Cell Signalling?

“Cell signalling is the process by which cells communicate with other cells within their body or with the external environment.”

Cell signalling occurs by several distinct pathways. Multicellular organisms need cell signalling to regulate different functions. E.g. nerve cells in coordinate with muscle cells to help in body movement.

Cell signalling can be intercellular as well as intracellular. Intracellular signals are produced by the same cells that receive the signal. Intercellular signals travel throughout the body. This permits specific glands to produce signals that act on different tissues.

Also Read: What are Cells

Types of Cell Signalling

Cell signalling molecules are of the following types:

  • Intracrine ligands: These are produced by the target cell and bind to the receptor within the cell.
  • Autocrine ligands: They function internally and on other target cells. For eg., immune cells.
  • Juxtacrine ligand: These target the adjacent cells.
  • Paracrine ligands: These target the cells in the vicinity of the original cells. For eg., neurotransmitters
  • Endocrine ligands: These produce hormones.

Stages of Cell Signalling

Cell signalling takes place in the following three stages:

  • Binding of the signal molecule to the receptor.
  • Signal transduction, where the chemical signals activate the enzymes.
  • Finally, the response is observed

Cell Signalling Pathways

The cell signalling pathways are either mechanical or biochemical.

The cell signalling is categorized based on the distance it must travel. For instance, hydrophobic ligands include steroids and vitamin D3. These can diffuse across the plasma membrane of target cells and bind to the intracellular cells.

On the contrary, hydrophilic ligands bind to the receptors on the surface of the cell and are amino acid-derived. These allow the signals to pass through the aqueous environment of our body without any assistance.

Cell Signalling Function

Intracellular Receptors

Intracellular receptors are common types of cell signalling receptor located within the cell in the cytoplasm. The intracellular receptors are of two types:

  • Nuclear receptors
  • Cytoplasmic receptors

Nuclear receptors are special classes of proteins with diverse DNA binding domains that form a complex with thyroid hormones that enter the nucleus and regulate the transcription of a gene.

Ligand Gated Ion Channels

These allow hydrophilic ions to pass the plasma membrane. When a neurotransmitter such as acetylcholine binds to it, ions cross the membrane and allow the neural firing to take place.

G-Protein Coupled Receptors

These receptors receive a large number of signals from diverse groups. The mechanism of action starts when a ligand binds to the receptor. This activates the G-protein that transmits an entire cascade of enzymes. It also activates the second messengers that carry out several functions such as sight, inflammation, growth and sensation.

Tyrosine Kinase

A ligand binds to the receptor tyrosine kinase that results in the dimerization of the kinase domains. The tyrosine kinase domains of the dimer then phosphorylate that allows the intracellular proteins to bind the phosphorylated sites and activate.

Also Read: Hormones

The message carried by the cells is passed through a chain of chemical messengers within the cells. This results in changes in the cell such as alteration in the gene activity or the entire process. Thus, an intercellular signal gets converted into an intracellular signal that stimulates a response.

For more information on cell signalling, its stages and types, keep visiting BYJU’S website or download BYJU’S app for further reference.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is cell to cell signalling?

Cell to cell signalling refers to the transfer of information from one cell to another. Cells signal either by direct contact or by releasing certain substances that are taken up by other cells.


What are the different types of cell signalling?

The different types of cell signalling include:

  • Paracrine signalling
  • Autocrine signalling
  • Endocrine signalling
  • Direct Contact

What is the importance of cell signalling?

Cell signalling is an important factor in life. The cells receive the signals and respond to the extracellular environment, thereby, allowing growth, development and immunity.


What is endocrine signalling? Give an example.

Endocrine signalling involves the secretion of signalling molecules (hormones) by specialised endocrine cells, which are then transported through the bloodstream to act on target cells in distal body regions. An example include the parathyroid gland. The kidneys, the GI system, or most bones are not around the parathyroid gland. It must travel far via the bloodstream or circulatory system to reach its target organs. Therefore, the parathyroid hormone is a prominent example of an endocrine hormone.

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