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Exciting fluctuations: monitoring competence induction dynamics at the single-cell level

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Molecular Systems Biology (Impact Factor: 14.1). 02/2006; 2:2006.0025. DOI: 10.1038/msb4100064
Source: PubMed
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    ABSTRACT: Cells live in uncertain, dynamic environments and have many mechanisms for sensing and responding to changes in their surroundings. However, sudden fluctuations in the environment can be catastrophic to a population if it relies solely on sensory responses, which have a delay associated with them. Cells can reconcile these effects by using a tunable stochastic response, where in the absence of a stressor they create phenotypic diversity within an isogenic population, but use a deterministic response when stressors are sensed. Here, we develop a stochastic model of the multiple antibiotic resistance network of Escherichia coli and show that it can produce tunable stochastic pulses in the activator MarA. In particular, we show that a combination of interlinked positive and negative feedback loops plays an important role in setting the dynamics of the stochastic pulses. Negative feedback produces a pulsatile response that is tunable, while positive feedback serves to amplify the effect. Our simulations show that the uninduced native network is in a parameter regime that is of low cost to the cell (taxing resistance mechanisms are expressed infrequently) and also elevated noise strength (phenotypic variability is high). The stochastic pulsing can be tuned by MarA induction such that variability is decreased once stresses are sensed, avoiding the detrimental effects of noise when an optimal MarA concentration is needed. We further show that variability in the expression of MarA can act as a bet hedging mechanism, allowing for survival in time-varying stress environments, however this effect is tunable to allow for a fully induced, deterministic response in the presence of a stressor.
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    ABSTRACT: Gene regulatory interactions are context dependent, active in some cellular states but not in others. Stochastic fluctuations, or 'noise', in gene expression propagate through active, but not inactive, regulatory links. Thus, correlations in gene expression noise could provide a noninvasive means to probe the activity states of regulatory links. However, global, 'extrinsic', noise sources generate correlations even without direct regulatory links. Here we show that single-cell time-lapse microscopy, by revealing time lags due to regulation, can discriminate between active regulatory connections and extrinsic noise. We demonstrate this principle mathematically, using stochastic modeling, and experimentally, using simple synthetic gene circuits. We then use this approach to analyze dynamic noise correlations in the galactose metabolism genes of Escherichia coli. We find that the CRPGalS-GalE feed-forward loop is inactive in standard conditions but can become active in a GalR mutant. These results show how noise can help analyze the context dependence of regulatory interactions in endogenous gene circuits.
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