Control of stochasticity in eukaryotic gene expression.
ABSTRACT: Noise, or random fluctuations, in gene expression may produce variability in cellular behavior. To measure the noise intrinsic to eukaryotic gene expression, we quantified the differences in expression of two alleles in a diploid cell. We found that such noise is gene-specific and not dependent on the regulatory pathway or absolute rate of expression. We propose a model in which the balance between promoter activation and transcription influences the variability in messenger RNA levels. To confirm the predictions of our model, we identified both cis- and trans-acting mutations that alter the noise of gene expression. These mutations suggest that noise is an evolvable trait that can be optimized to balance fidelity and diversity in eukaryotic gene expression.
Project description:A major challenge in biology is that genetically identical cells in the same environment can display gene expression stochasticity (noise), which contributes to bet-hedging, drug tolerance, and cell-fate switching. The magnitude and timescales of stochastic fluctuations can depend on the gene regulatory network. Currently, it is unclear how gene expression noise of specific networks impacts the evolution of drug resistance in mammalian cells. Answering this question requires adjusting network noise independently from mean expression. Here, we develop positive and negative feedback-based synthetic gene circuits to decouple noise from the mean for Puromycin resistance gene expression in Chinese Hamster Ovary cells. In low Puromycin concentrations, the high-noise, positive-feedback network delays long-term adaptation, whereas it facilitates adaptation under high Puromycin concentration. Accordingly, the low-noise, negative-feedback circuit can maintain resistance by acquiring mutations while the positive-feedback circuit remains mutation-free and regains drug sensitivity. These findings may have profound implications for chemotherapeutic inefficiency and cancer relapse.
Project description:Genetic variation segregating within a species reflects the combined activities of mutation, selection, and genetic drift. In the absence of selection, polymorphisms are expected to be a random subset of new mutations; thus, comparing the effects of polymorphisms and new mutations provides a test for selection. When evidence of selection exists, such comparisons can identify properties of mutations that are most likely to persist in natural populations. Here we investigate how mutation and selection have shaped variation in a cis-regulatory sequence controlling gene expression by empirically determining the effects of polymorphisms segregating in the TDH3 promoter among 85 strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and comparing their effects to a distribution of mutational effects defined by 236 point mutations in the same promoter. Surprisingly, we find that selection on expression noise (that is, variability in expression among genetically identical cells) appears to have had a greater impact on sequence variation in the TDH3 promoter than selection on mean expression level. This is not necessarily because variation in expression noise impacts fitness more than variation in mean expression level, but rather because of differences in the distributions of mutational effects for these two phenotypes. This study shows how systematically examining the effects of new mutations can enrich our understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. It also provides rare empirical evidence of selection acting on expression noise.
Project description:Stochastic fluctuations (noise) in gene expression can cause members of otherwise genetically identical populations to display drastically different phenotypes. An understanding of the sources of noise and the strategies cells employ to function reliably despite noise is proving to be increasingly important in describing the behavior of natural organisms and will be essential for the engineering of synthetic biological systems. Here we describe the design of synthetic constructs, termed ribosome competing RNAs (rcRNAs), as a means to rationally perturb noise in cellular gene expression. We find that noise in gene expression increases in a manner proportional to the ability of an rcRNA to compete for the cellular ribosome pool. We then demonstrate that operons significantly buffer noise between coexpressed genes in a natural cellular background and can even reduce the level of rcRNA enhanced noise. These results demonstrate that synthetic genetic constructs can significantly affect the noise profile of a living cell and, importantly, that operons are a facile genetic strategy for buffering against noise.
Project description:Expression levels of genes vary not only between different environmental conditions ("plasticity") but also between genetically identical cells in constant environment ("noise"). Intriguingly, these two measures of gene expression variability correlate positively with each other in yeast. This coupling was found to be particularly strong for genes with specific promoter architecture (TATA box and high nucleosome occupancy) but weak for genes in which high noise may be detrimental (e.g., essential genes), suggesting that noise-plasticity coupling is an evolvable trait in yeast and may constrain evolution of gene expression and promoter usage. Recently, similar genome-wide data on noise and plasticity have become available for Escherichia coli, providing the opportunity to study noise-plasticity correlation and its mechanism in a prokaryote, which follows a fundamentally different mode of transcription regulation than a eukaryote such as yeast. Using these data, I found significant positive correlation between noise and plasticity in E. coli. Furthermore, this coupling was highly influenced by the following: level of expression; essentiality and dosage sensitivity of genes; regulation by specific nucleoid-associated proteins, transcription factors, and sigma factors; and involvement in stress response. Many of these features are analogous to those found to influence noise-plasticity coupling in yeast. These results not only show the generality of noise-plasticity coupling across phylogenetically distant organisms but also suggest that its mechanism may be similar.
Project description:Transcription is regulated by a multitude of factors that concertedly induce genes to switch between activity states. Eukaryotic transcription involves a multitude of complexes that sequentially assemble on chromatin under the influence of transcription factors and the dynamic state of chromatin. Prokaryotic transcription depends on transcription factors, sigma-factors, and, in some cases, on DNA looping. We present a stochastic model of transcription that considers these complex regulatory mechanisms. We coarse-grain the molecular details in such a way that the model can describe a broad class of gene-regulation mechanisms. We solve this model analytically for various measures of stochastic transcription and compare alternative gene-regulation designs. We find that genes with complex multiprotein regulation can have peaked burst-size distributions in contrast to the geometric distributions found for simple models of transcription regulation. Burst-size distributions are, in addition, shaped by mRNA degradation during transcription bursts. We derive the stochastic properties of genes in the limit of deterministic switch times. These genes typically have reduced transcription noise. Severe timescale separation between gene regulation and transcription initiation enhances noise and leads to bimodal mRNA copy number distributions. In general, complex mechanisms for gene regulation lead to nonexponential waiting-time distributions for gene switching and transcription initiation, which typically reduce noise in mRNA copy numbers and burst size. Finally, we discuss that qualitatively different gene regulation models can often fit the same experimental data on single-cell mRNA abundance even though they have qualitatively different burst-size statistics and regulatory parameters.
Project description:The intrinsic stochasticity of gene expression leads to cell-to-cell variations, noise, in protein abundance. Several processes, including transcription, translation, and degradation of mRNA and proteins, can contribute to these variations. Recent single cell analyses of gene expression in yeast have uncovered a general trend where expression noise scales with protein abundance. This trend is consistent with a stochastic model of gene expression where mRNA copy number follows the random birth and death process. However, some deviations from this basic trend have also been observed, prompting questions about the contribution of gene-specific features to such deviations. For example, recent studies have pointed to the TATA box as a sequence feature that can influence expression noise by facilitating expression bursts. Transcription-originated noise can be potentially further amplified in translation. Therefore, we asked the question of to what extent sequence features known or postulated to accompany translation efficiency can also be associated with increase in noise strength and, on average, how such increase compares to the amplification associated with the TATA box. Untangling different components of expression noise is highly nontrivial, as they may be gene or gene-module specific. In particular, focusing on codon usage as one of the sequence features associated with efficient translation, we found that ribosomal genes display a different relationship between expression noise and codon usage as compared to other genes. Within nonribosomal genes we found that sequence high codon usage is correlated with increased noise relative to the average noise of proteins with the same abundance. Interestingly, by projecting the data on a theoretical model of gene expression, we found that the amplification of noise strength associated with codon usage is comparable to that of the TATA box, suggesting that the effect of translation on noise in eukaryotic gene expression might be more prominent than previously appreciated.
Project description:Gene expression noise is an evolvable property of biological systems that describes differences in expression among genetically identical cells in the same environment. Prior work has shown that expression noise is heritable and can be shaped by selection, but the impact of variation in expression noise on organismal fitness has proven difficult to measure. Here, we quantify the fitness effects of altering expression noise for the TDH3 gene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We show that increases in expression noise can be deleterious or beneficial depending on the difference between the average expression level of a genotype and the expression level maximizing fitness. We also show that a simple model relating single-cell expression levels to population growth produces patterns consistent with our empirical data. We use this model to explore a broad range of average expression levels and expression noise, providing additional insight into the fitness effects of variation in expression noise.
Project description:Gene expression is a stochastic, or "noisy," process. This noise comes about in two ways. The inherent stochasticity of biochemical processes such as transcription and translation generates "intrinsic" noise. In addition, fluctuations in the amounts or states of other cellular components lead indirectly to variation in the expression of a particular gene and thus represent "extrinsic" noise. Here, we show how the total variation in the level of expression of a given gene can be decomposed into its intrinsic and extrinsic components. We demonstrate theoretically that simultaneous measurement of two identical genes per cell enables discrimination of these two types of noise. Analytic expressions for intrinsic noise are given for a model that involves all the major steps in transcription and translation. These expressions give the sensitivity to various parameters, quantify the deviation from Poisson statistics, and provide a way of fitting experiment. Transcription dominates the intrinsic noise when the average number of proteins made per mRNA transcript is greater than approximately 2. Below this number, translational effects also become important. Gene replication and cell division, included in the model, cause protein numbers to tend to a limit cycle. We calculate a general form for the extrinsic noise and illustrate it with the particular case of a single fluctuating extrinsic variable-a repressor protein, which acts on the gene of interest. All results are confirmed by stochastic simulation using plausible parameters for Escherichia coli.
Project description:Synthetic gene networks can be used to control gene expression and cellular phenotypes in a variety of applications. In many instances, however, such networks can behave unreliably due to gene expression noise. Accordingly, there is a need to develop systematic means to tune gene expression noise, so that it can be suppressed in some cases and harnessed in others, e.g. in cellular differentiation to create population-wide heterogeneity. Here, we present a method for controlling noise in synthetic eukaryotic gene expression systems, utilizing reduction of noise levels by TATA box mutations and noise propagation in transcriptional cascades. Specifically, we introduce TATA box mutations into promoters driving TetR expression and show that these mutations can be used to effectively tune the noise of a target gene while decoupling it from the mean, with negligible effects on the dynamic range and basal expression. We apply mathematical and computational modeling to explain the experimentally observed effects of TATA box mutations. This work, which highlights some important aspects of noise propagation in gene regulatory cascades, has practical implications for implementing gene expression control in synthetic gene networks.
Project description:Modeling stochasticity in gene regulatory networks is an important and complex problem in molecular systems biology. To elucidate intrinsic noise, several modeling strategies such as the Gillespie algorithm have been used successfully. This article contributes an approach as an alternative to these classical settings. Within the discrete paradigm, where genes, proteins, and other molecular components of gene regulatory networks are modeled as discrete variables and are assigned as logical rules describing their regulation through interactions with other components. Stochasticity is modeled at the biological function level under the assumption that even if the expression levels of the input nodes of an update rule guarantee activation or degradation there is a probability that the process will not occur due to stochastic effects. This approach allows a finer analysis of discrete models and provides a natural setup for cell population simulations to study cell-to-cell variability. We applied our methods to two of the most studied regulatory networks, the outcome of lambda phage infection of bacteria and the p53-mdm2 complex.