Signal exchange between different cell types is essential for development and function of multicellular organisms, and its dysregulation is causal in many diseases. Unfortunately, most cell-signaling work has employed single cell types grown under conditions unrelated to their native context. Recent technical developments have started to provide the tools needed to follow signaling between multiple cell types, but gaps in the information they provide have limited their usefulness in building realistic models of heterocellular signaling. Currently, only targeted assays have the necessary sensitivity, selectivity, and spatial resolution to usefully probe heterocellular signaling processes, but these are best used to test specific, mechanistic models. Decades of systems biology research with monocultures has provided a solid foundation for building models of heterocellular signaling, but current models lack a realistic description of regulated proteolysis and the feedback processes triggered within and between cells. Identification and understanding of key regulatory processes in the extracellular environment and of recursive signaling patterns between cells will be essential to building predictive models of heterocellular systems.

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