Tension and Robustness in Multitasking Cellular Networks

Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA.
PLoS Computational Biology (Impact Factor: 4.62). 04/2012; 8(4):e1002491. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002491
Source: PubMed


Cellular networks multitask by exhibiting distinct, context-dependent dynamics. However, network states (parameters) that generate a particular dynamic are often sub-optimal for others, defining a source of "tension" between them. Though multitasking is pervasive, it is not clear where tension arises, what consequences it has, and how it is resolved. We developed a generic computational framework to examine the source and consequences of tension between pairs of dynamics exhibited by the well-studied RB-E2F switch regulating cell cycle entry. We found that tension arose from task-dependent shifts in parameters associated with network modules. Although parameter sets common to distinct dynamics did exist, tension reduced both their accessibility and resilience to perturbation, indicating a trade-off between "one-size-fits-all" solutions and robustness. With high tension, robustness can be preserved by dynamic shifting of modules, enabling the network to toggle between tasks, and by increasing network complexity, in this case by gene duplication. We propose that tension is a general constraint on the architecture and operation of multitasking biological networks. To this end, our work provides a framework to quantify the extent of tension between any network dynamics and how it affects network robustness. Such analysis would suggest new ways to interfere with network elements to elucidate the design principles of cellular networks.

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