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Modular Composition of Gene Transcription Networks

1 , 2 , *

PLoS Computational Biology

Public Library of Science

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      Predicting the dynamic behavior of a large network from that of the composing modules is a central problem in systems and synthetic biology. Yet, this predictive ability is still largely missing because modules display context-dependent behavior. One cause of context-dependence is retroactivity, a phenomenon similar to loading that influences in non-trivial ways the dynamic performance of a module upon connection to other modules. Here, we establish an analysis framework for gene transcription networks that explicitly accounts for retroactivity. Specifically, a module's key properties are encoded by three retroactivity matrices: internal, scaling, and mixing retroactivity. All of them have a physical interpretation and can be computed from macroscopic parameters (dissociation constants and promoter concentrations) and from the modules' topology. The internal retroactivity quantifies the effect of intramodular connections on an isolated module's dynamics. The scaling and mixing retroactivity establish how intermodular connections change the dynamics of connected modules. Based on these matrices and on the dynamics of modules in isolation, we can accurately predict how loading will affect the behavior of an arbitrary interconnection of modules. We illustrate implications of internal, scaling, and mixing retroactivity on the performance of recurrent network motifs, including negative autoregulation, combinatorial regulation, two-gene clocks, the toggle switch, and the single-input motif. We further provide a quantitative metric that determines how robust the dynamic behavior of a module is to interconnection with other modules. This metric can be employed both to evaluate the extent of modularity of natural networks and to establish concrete design guidelines to minimize retroactivity between modules in synthetic systems.

      Author Summary

      Biological modules are inherently context-dependent as the input/output behavior of a module often changes upon connection with other modules. One source of context-dependence is retroactivity, a loading phenomenon by which a downstream system affects the behavior of an upstream system upon interconnection. This fact renders it difficult to predict how modules will behave once connected to each other. In this paper, we propose a general modeling framework for gene transcription networks to accurately predict how retroactivity affects the dynamic behavior of interconnected modules, based on salient physical properties of the same modules in isolation. We illustrate how our framework predicts surprising and counter-intuitive dynamic properties of naturally occurring network structures, which cannot be captured by existing models of the same dimension. We describe implications of our findings on the bottom-up approach to designing synthetic circuits, and on the top-down approach to identifying functional modules in natural networks, revealing trade-offs between robustness to interconnection and dynamic performance. Our framework carries substantial conceptual analogies with electrical network theory based on equivalent representations. We believe that the framework we have proposed, also based on equivalent network representations, can be similarly useful for the analysis and design of biological networks.

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      Most cited references 41

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       S Itzkovitz,  R. Orr,  R Milo (2002)
      Complex networks are studied across many fields of science. To uncover their structural design principles, we defined "network motifs," patterns of interconnections occurring in complex networks at numbers that are significantly higher than those in randomized networks. We found such motifs in networks from biochemistry, neurobiology, ecology, and engineering. The motifs shared by ecological food webs were distinct from the motifs shared by the genetic networks of Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae or from those found in the World Wide Web. Similar motifs were found in networks that perform information processing, even though they describe elements as different as biomolecules within a cell and synaptic connections between neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans. Motifs may thus define universal classes of networks. This approach may uncover the basic building blocks of most networks.
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        Community structure in social and biological networks

        A number of recent studies have focused on the statistical properties of networked systems such as social networks and the World-Wide Web. Researchers have concentrated particularly on a few properties which seem to be common to many networks: the small-world property, power-law degree distributions, and network transitivity. In this paper, we highlight another property which is found in many networks, the property of community structure, in which network nodes are joined together in tightly-knit groups between which there are only looser connections. We propose a new method for detecting such communities, built around the idea of using centrality indices to find community boundaries. We test our method on computer generated and real-world graphs whose community structure is already known, and find that it detects this known structure with high sensitivity and reliability. We also apply the method to two networks whose community structure is not well-known - a collaboration network and a food web - and find that it detects significant and informative community divisions in both cases.
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          Construction of a genetic toggle switch in Escherichia coli.

          It has been proposed' that gene-regulatory circuits with virtually any desired property can be constructed from networks of simple regulatory elements. These properties, which include multistability and oscillations, have been found in specialized gene circuits such as the bacteriophage lambda switch and the Cyanobacteria circadian oscillator. However, these behaviours have not been demonstrated in networks of non-specialized regulatory components. Here we present the construction of a genetic toggle switch-a synthetic, bistable gene-regulatory network-in Escherichia coli and provide a simple theory that predicts the conditions necessary for bistability. The toggle is constructed from any two repressible promoters arranged in a mutually inhibitory network. It is flipped between stable states using transient chemical or thermal induction and exhibits a nearly ideal switching threshold. As a practical device, the toggle switch forms a synthetic, addressable cellular memory unit and has implications for biotechnology, biocomputing and gene therapy.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America
            [2 ]Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America
            Princeton University, United States of America
            Author notes

            The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: AG DDV. Performed the experiments: AG. Analyzed the data: AG DDV. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: AG DDV. Wrote the paper: AG DDV.

            Role: Editor
            PLoS Comput Biol
            PLoS Comput. Biol
            PLoS Computational Biology
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            March 2014
            13 March 2014
            : 10
            : 3

            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.

            Pages: 16
            Grant #FA9550-12-1-0129. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
            Research Article
            Synthetic Biology
            Systems Biology

            Quantitative & Systems biology


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