ABSTRACT: Individual neuronal, signal transduction, and regulatory pathways often control multiple stochastic downstream actuators, which raises the question of how coordinated response to a single input can be achieved when individual actuators fluctuate independently. In Escherichia coli, the bacterial chemotaxis pathway controls the activity of multiple flagellar motors to generate the run-and-tumble motion of the cell. High-resolution microscopy experiments have identified the key conformational changes adopted by individual flagella during this process. By incorporating these observations into a stochastic model of the flagellar bundle, we demonstrate that the presence of multiple motors imposes a trade-off on chemotactic performance. Multiple motors reduce the latency of the response below the time scale of the stochastic switching of a single motor, which improves performance on steep gradients of attractants. However, the uncoordinated switching of multiple motors interrupts and shortens cell runs, which thereby reduces signal detection and performance on shallow gradients. Remarkably, when slow fluctuations generated by the adaptation mechanism of the chemotaxis system are incorporated in the model at levels measured in experiments, the chemotactic sensitivity and performance in shallow gradients is partially restored with marginal effects for steep gradients. The noise is beneficial because it simultaneously generates long events in the statistics of individual motors and coordinates the motors to generate a long tail in the run length distribution of the cell. Occasional long runs are known to enhance exploration of random walkers. Here we show that they have the additional benefit of enhancing the sensitivity of the bacterium to very shallow gradients.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 12/2011; 109(3):805-10. · 9.68 Impact Factor