Ultrasensitive synthetic protein regulatory networks using mixed decoys.
ABSTRACT Cellular protein interaction networks exhibit sigmoidal input-output relationships with thresholds and steep responses (i.e. ultrasensitivity). Although cooperativity can be a source of ultrasensitivity, we examined whether the presence of "decoy" binding sites that are not coupled to activation could also lead to this effect. To systematically vary key parameters of the system, we designed a synthetic regulatory system consisting of an autoinhibited PDZ domain coupled to an activating SH3 domain binding site. In the absence of a decoy binding site, this system is non-ultrasensitive, as predicted by modeling of this system. Addition of a high-affinity decoy site adds a threshold, but the response is not ultrasensitive. We found that sigmoidal activation profiles can be generated utilizing multiple decoys with mixtures of high and low affinities, where high affinity decoys act to set the threshold and low affinity decoys ensure a sigmoidal response. Placing the synthetic decoy system in a mitotic spindle orientation cell culture system thresholds this physiological activity. Thus, simple combinations of non-activating binding sites can lead to complex regulatory responses in protein interaction networks.