Single cells can detect remarkably small chemical concentrations and concentration gradients. At the same time, cells have evolved diverse mechanisms of communicating. Here we address, with both theory and experiments, whether cell-cell communication improves concentration- and gradient-sensing precision. We develop a minimal model of collective sensing by cells that communicate via juxtacrine signaling, in which a small molecule is exchanged between neighboring cells. Our model makes several concrete predictions, which we validate with experiments on clusters of epithelial cells (‘organoids’) in the presence of shallow growth factor gradients.
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