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      Machines vs. Ensembles: Effective MAPK Signaling through Heterogeneous Sets of Protein Complexes

      1 , 1 , 2 , *

      PLoS Computational Biology

      Public Library of Science

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          There is no author summary for this article yet. Authors can add summaries to their articles on ScienceOpen to make them more accessible to a non-specialist audience.

          Abstract

          Despite the importance of intracellular signaling networks, there is currently no consensus regarding the fundamental nature of the protein complexes such networks employ. One prominent view involves stable signaling machines with well-defined quaternary structures. The combinatorial complexity of signaling networks has led to an opposing perspective, namely that signaling proceeds via heterogeneous pleiomorphic ensembles of transient complexes. Since many hypotheses regarding network function rely on how we conceptualize signaling complexes, resolving this issue is a central problem in systems biology. Unfortunately, direct experimental characterization of these complexes has proven technologically difficult, while combinatorial complexity has prevented traditional modeling methods from approaching this question. Here we employ rule-based modeling, a technique that overcomes these limitations, to construct a model of the yeast pheromone signaling network. We found that this model exhibits significant ensemble character while generating reliable responses that match experimental observations. To contrast the ensemble behavior, we constructed a model that employs hierarchical assembly pathways to produce scaffold-based signaling machines. We found that this machine model could not replicate the experimentally observed combinatorial inhibition that arises when the scaffold is overexpressed. This finding provides evidence against the hierarchical assembly of machines in the pheromone signaling network and suggests that machines and ensembles may serve distinct purposes in vivo. In some cases, e.g. core enzymatic activities like protein synthesis and degradation, machines assembled via hierarchical energy landscapes may provide functional stability for the cell. In other cases, such as signaling, ensembles may represent a form of weak linkage, facilitating variation and plasticity in network evolution. The capacity of ensembles to signal effectively will ultimately shape how we conceptualize the function, evolution and engineering of signaling networks.

          Author Summary

          Intracellular signaling networks are central to a cell's ability to adapt to its environment. Developing the capacity to effectively manipulate such networks would have a wide range of applications, from cancer therapy to synthetic biology. This requires a thorough understanding of the mechanisms of signal transduction, particularly the kinds of protein complexes that are formed during transmission of extracellular information to the nucleus. Traditionally, signaling complexes have been largely perceived (albeit often implicitly) as machine-like structures. However, the number of molecular complexes that could theoretically be formed by complex signaling networks is astronomically large. This has led to the pleiomorphic ensemble hypothesis, which posits that diverse and rapidly changing sets of transient protein complexes can transmit and process information. Our goal was to use computational approaches, specifically rule-based modeling, to test these hypotheses. We constructed a model of the prototypical yeast mating pathway and found significant ensemble-like behavior. Our results thus demonstrated that ensembles can in fact transmit extracellular signals with minimal noise. Additionally, a comparison of this model with one tailored to generate machine-like complexes displayed notable phenotypic differences, revealing potential advantages for ensemble-like signaling. Our demonstration that ensembles can function effectively will have a significant impact on how we conceptualize signaling and other processes inside cells.

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          Most cited references 54

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          We introduce a method for optically imaging intracellular proteins at nanometer spatial resolution. Numerous sparse subsets of photoactivatable fluorescent protein molecules were activated, localized (to approximately 2 to 25 nanometers), and then bleached. The aggregate position information from all subsets was then assembled into a superresolution image. We used this method--termed photoactivated localization microscopy--to image specific target proteins in thin sections of lysosomes and mitochondria; in fixed whole cells, we imaged vinculin at focal adhesions, actin within a lamellipodium, and the distribution of the retroviral protein Gag at the plasma membrane.
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            We have developed a high-resolution fluorescence microscopy method based on high-accuracy localization of photoswitchable fluorophores. In each imaging cycle, only a fraction of the fluorophores were turned on, allowing their positions to be determined with nanometer accuracy. The fluorophore positions obtained from a series of imaging cycles were used to reconstruct the overall image. We demonstrated an imaging resolution of 20 nm. This technique can, in principle, reach molecular-scale resolution.
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              Global analysis of protein expression in yeast.

              The availability of complete genomic sequences and technologies that allow comprehensive analysis of global expression profiles of messenger RNA have greatly expanded our ability to monitor the internal state of a cell. Yet biological systems ultimately need to be explained in terms of the activity, regulation and modification of proteins--and the ubiquitous occurrence of post-transcriptional regulation makes mRNA an imperfect proxy for such information. To facilitate global protein analyses, we have created a Saccharomyces cerevisiae fusion library where each open reading frame is tagged with a high-affinity epitope and expressed from its natural chromosomal location. Through immunodetection of the common tag, we obtain a census of proteins expressed during log-phase growth and measurements of their absolute levels. We find that about 80% of the proteome is expressed during normal growth conditions, and, using additional sequence information, we systematically identify misannotated genes. The abundance of proteins ranges from fewer than 50 to more than 10(6) molecules per cell. Many of these molecules, including essential proteins and most transcription factors, are present at levels that are not readily detectable by other proteomic techniques nor predictable by mRNA levels or codon bias measurements.
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                Author and article information

                Affiliations
                [1 ]Center for Bioinformatics, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, United States of America
                [2 ]Department of Molecular Biosciences, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, United States of America
                Fox Chase Cancer Center, United States of America
                Author notes

                The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: RS EJD. Performed the experiments: RS. Analyzed the data: RS EJD. Wrote the paper: RS EJD.

                Contributors
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS Comput Biol
                PLoS Comput. Biol
                plos
                ploscomp
                PLoS Computational Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1553-734X
                1553-7358
                October 2013
                October 2013
                10 October 2013
                : 9
                : 10
                24130475 3794900 PCOMPBIOL-D-13-00416 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003278

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Counts
                Pages: 11
                Funding
                This work was supported by startup funds from the University of Kansas. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Categories
                Research Article

                Quantitative & Systems biology

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