[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Here we review some of our work over the last decade on Xenopus oocyte maturation, a cell fate switch, and the Xenopus embryonic cell cycle, a highly dynamical process. Our approach has been to start with wiring diagrams for the regulatory networks that underpin the processes; carry out quantitative experiments to describe the response functions for individual legs of the networks; and then construct simple analytical models based on chemical kinetic theory and the graphical rate-balance formalism. These studies support the view that the all-or-none, irreversible nature of oocyte maturation arises from a saddle-node bifurcation in the regulatory system that drives the process, and that the clock-like oscillations of the embryo are built upon a hysteretic switch with two saddle-node bifurcations. We believe that this type of reductionistic systems biology holds great promise for understanding complicated biochemical processes in simpler terms.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The maturation of Xenopus oocytes can be thought of as a process of cell fate induction, with the immature oocyte representing the default fate and the mature oocyte representing the induced fate. Crucial mediators of Xenopus oocyte maturation, including the p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and the cell-division cycle protein kinase Cdc2, are known to be organized into positive feedback loops. In principle, such positive feedback loops could produce an actively maintained 'memory' of a transient inductive stimulus and could explain the irreversibility of maturation. Here we show that the p42 MAPK and Cdc2 system normally generates an irreversible biochemical response from a transient stimulus, but the response becomes transient when positive feedback is blocked. Our results explain how a group of intrinsically reversible signal transducers can generate an irreversible response at a systems level, and show how a cell fate can be maintained by a self-sustaining pattern of protein kinase activation.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Xenopus oocyte maturation is an example of an all-or-none, irreversible cell fate induction process. In response to a submaximal concentration of the steroid hormone progesterone, a given oocyte may either mature or not mature, but it can exist in intermediate states only transiently. Moreover, once an oocyte has matured, it will remain arrested in the mature state even after the progesterone is removed. It has been hypothesized that the all-or-none character of oocyte maturation, and some aspects of the irreversibility of maturation, arise out of the bistability of the signal transduction system that triggers maturation. The bistability, in turn, is hypothesized to arise from the way the signal transducers are organized into a signaling circuit that includes positive feedback (which makes it so that the system cannot rest in intermediate states) and ultrasensitivity (which filters small stimuli out of the feedback loop, allowing the system to have a stable off-state). Here we review two simple graphical methods that are commonly used to analyze bistable systems, discuss the experimental evidence for bistability in oocyte maturation, and suggest that bistability may be a common means of producing all-or-none responses and a type of biochemical memory. (c) 2001 American Institute of Physics.