Deterministic characterization of stochastic genetic circuits.
ABSTRACT: For cellular biochemical reaction systems where the numbers of molecules is small, significant noise is associated with chemical reaction events. This molecular noise can give rise to behavior that is very different from the predictions of deterministic rate equation models. Unfortunately, there are few analytic methods for examining the qualitative behavior of stochastic systems. Here we describe such a method that extends deterministic analysis to include leading-order corrections due to the molecular noise. The method allows the steady-state behavior of the stochastic model to be easily computed, facilitates the mapping of stability phase diagrams that include stochastic effects, and reveals how model parameters affect noise susceptibility in a manner not accessible to numerical simulation. By way of illustration we consider two genetic circuits: a bistable positive-feedback loop and a negative-feedback oscillator. We find in the positive feedback circuit that translational activation leads to a far more stable system than transcriptional control. Conversely, in a negative-feedback loop triggered by a positive-feedback switch, the stochasticity of transcriptional control is harnessed to generate reproducible oscillations.
Project description:The lac operon genetic switch is considered as a paradigm of genetic regulation. This system has a positive feedback loop due to the LacY permease boosting its own production by the facilitated transport of inducer into the cell and the subsequent de-repression of the lac operon genes. Previously, we have investigated the effect of stochasticity in an artificial lac operon network at the single cell level by comparing corresponding deterministic and stochastic kinetic models.This work focuses on the dynamics of cell populations by incorporating the above kinetic scheme into two Monte Carlo (MC) simulation frameworks. The first MC framework assumes stochastic reaction occurrence, accounts for stochastic DNA duplication, division and partitioning and tracks all daughter cells to obtain the statistics of the entire cell population. In order to better understand how stochastic effects shape cell population distributions, we develop a second framework that assumes deterministic reaction dynamics. By comparing the predictions of the two frameworks, we conclude that stochasticity can create or destroy bimodality, and may enhance phenotypic heterogeneity.Our results show how various sources of stochasticity act in synergy with the positive feedback architecture, thereby shaping the behavior at the cell population level. Further, the insights obtained from the present study allow us to construct simpler and less computationally intensive models that can closely approximate the dynamics of heterogeneous cell populations.
Project description:The lac operon has been a paradigm for genetic regulation with positive feedback, and several modeling studies have described its dynamics at various levels of detail. However, it has not yet been analyzed how stochasticity can enrich the system's behavior, creating effects that are not observed in the deterministic case. To address this problem we use a comparative approach. We develop a reaction network for the dynamics of the lac operon genetic switch and derive corresponding deterministic and stochastic models that incorporate biological details. We then analyze the effects of key biomolecular mechanisms, such as promoter strength and binding affinities, on the behavior of the models. No assumptions or approximations are made when building the models other than those utilized in the reaction network. Thus, we are able to carry out a meaningful comparison between the predictions of the two models to demonstrate genuine effects of stochasticity. Such a comparison reveals that in the presence of stochasticity, certain biomolecular mechanisms can profoundly influence the region where the system exhibits bistability, a key characteristic of the lac operon dynamics. For these cases, the temporal asymptotic behavior of the deterministic model remains unchanged, indicating a role of stochasticity in modulating the behavior of the system.
Project description:Recently, a molecular pathway linking inflammation to cell transformation has been discovered. This molecular pathway rests on a positive inflammatory feedback loop between NF-?B, Lin28, Let-7 microRNA and IL6, which leads to an epigenetic switch allowing cell transformation. A transient activation of an inflammatory signal, mediated by the oncoprotein Src, activates NF-?B, which elicits the expression of Lin28. Lin28 decreases the expression of Let-7 microRNA, which results in higher level of IL6 than achieved directly by NF-?B. In turn, IL6 can promote NF-?B activation. Finally, IL6 also elicits the synthesis of STAT3, which is a crucial activator for cell transformation. Here, we propose a computational model to account for the dynamical behavior of this positive inflammatory feedback loop. By means of a deterministic model, we show that an irreversible bistable switch between a transformed and a non-transformed state of the cell is at the core of the dynamical behavior of the positive feedback loop linking inflammation to cell transformation. The model indicates that inhibitors (tumor suppressors) or activators (oncogenes) of this positive feedback loop regulate the occurrence of the epigenetic switch by modulating the threshold of inflammatory signal (Src) needed to promote cell transformation. Both stochastic simulations and deterministic simulations of a heterogeneous cell population suggest that random fluctuations (due to molecular noise or cell-to-cell variability) are able to trigger cell transformation. Moreover, the model predicts that oncogenes/tumor suppressors respectively decrease/increase the robustness of the non-transformed state of the cell towards random fluctuations. Finally, the model accounts for the potential effect of competing endogenous RNAs, ceRNAs, on the dynamics of the epigenetic switch. Depending on their microRNA targets, the model predicts that ceRNAs could act as oncogenes or tumor suppressors by regulating the occurrence of cell transformation.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Apoptosis is a cell suicide mechanism that enables multicellular organisms to maintain homeostasis and to eliminate individual cells that threaten the organism's survival. Dependent on the type of stimulus, apoptosis can be propagated by extrinsic pathway or intrinsic pathway. The comprehensive understanding of the molecular mechanism of apoptotic signaling allows for development of mathematical models, aiming to elucidate dynamical and systems properties of apoptotic signaling networks. There have been extensive efforts in modeling deterministic apoptosis network accounting for average behavior of a population of cells. Cellular networks, however, are inherently stochastic and significant cell-to-cell variability in apoptosis response has been observed at single cell level. RESULTS: To address the inevitable randomness in the intrinsic apoptosis mechanism, we develop a theoretical and computational modeling framework of intrinsic apoptosis pathway at single-cell level, accounting for both deterministic and stochastic behavior. Our deterministic model, adapted from the well-accepted Fussenegger model, shows that an additional positive feedback between the executioner caspase and the initiator caspase plays a fundamental role in yielding the desired property of bistability. We then examine the impact of intrinsic fluctuations of biochemical reactions, viewed as intrinsic noise, and natural variation of protein concentrations, viewed as extrinsic noise, on behavior of the intrinsic apoptosis network. Histograms of the steady-state output at varying input levels show that the intrinsic noise could elicit a wider region of bistability over that of the deterministic model. However, the system stochasticity due to intrinsic fluctuations, such as the noise of steady-state response and the randomness of response delay, shows that the intrinsic noise in general is insufficient to produce significant cell-to-cell variations at physiologically relevant level of molecular numbers. Furthermore, the extrinsic noise represented by random variations of two key apoptotic proteins, namely Cytochrome C and inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAP), is modeled separately or in combination with intrinsic noise. The resultant stochasticity in the timing of intrinsic apoptosis response shows that the fluctuating protein variations can induce cell-to-cell stochastic variability at a quantitative level agreeing with experiments. Finally, simulations illustrate that the mean abundance of fluctuating IAP protein is positively correlated with the degree of cellular stochasticity of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. CONCLUSIONS: Our theoretical and computational study shows that the pronounced non-genetic heterogeneity in intrinsic apoptosis responses among individual cells plausibly arises from extrinsic rather than intrinsic origin of fluctuations. In addition, it predicts that the IAP protein could serve as a potential therapeutic target for suppression of the cell-to-cell variation in the intrinsic apoptosis responsiveness.
Project description:Hybrid deterministic-stochastic methods provide an efficient alternative to a fully stochastic treatment of models which include components with disparate levels of stochasticity. However, general-purpose hybrid solvers for spatially resolved simulations of reaction-diffusion systems are not widely available. Here we describe fundamentals of a general-purpose spatial hybrid method. The method generates realizations of a spatially inhomogeneous hybrid system by appropriately integrating capabilities of a deterministic partial differential equation solver with a popular particle-based stochastic simulator, Smoldyn. Rigorous validation of the algorithm is detailed, using a simple model of calcium 'sparks' as a testbed. The solver is then applied to a deterministic-stochastic model of spontaneous emergence of cell polarity. The approach is general enough to be implemented within biologist-friendly software frameworks such as Virtual Cell.
Project description:Oscillatory dynamics are common in biological pathways, emerging from the coupling of positive and negative feedback loops. Due to the small numbers of molecules typically contained in cellular volumes, stochastic effects may play an important role in system behavior. Thus, for moderate noise strengths, stochasticity has been shown to enhance signal-to-noise ratios or even induce oscillations in a class of phenomena referred to as "stochastic resonance" and "coherence resonance," respectively. Furthermore, the biological oscillators are subject to influences from the division cycle of the cell. In this paper we consider a biologically relevant oscillator and investigate the effect of intrinsic noise as well as division cycle which encompasses the processes of growth, DNA duplication, and cell division. We first construct a minimal reaction network which can oscillate in the presence of large or negligible timescale separation. We then derive corresponding deterministic and stochastic models and compare their dynamical behaviors with respect to (i) the extent of the parameter space where each model can exhibit oscillatory behavior and (ii) the oscillation characteristics, namely, the amplitude and the period. We further incorporate division cycle effects on both models and investigate the effect of growth rate on system behavior. Our results show that in the presence but not in the absence of large timescale separation, coherence resonance effects result in extending the oscillatory region and lowering the period for the stochastic model. When the division cycle is taken into account, the oscillatory region of the deterministic model is shown to extend or shrink for moderate or high growth rates, respectively. Further, under the influence of the division cycle, the stochastic model can oscillate for parameter sets for which the deterministic model does not. The division cycle is also found to be able to resonate with the oscillator, thereby enhancing oscillation robustness. The results of this study can give valuable insight into the complex interplay between oscillatory intracellular dynamics and various noise sources, stemming from gene expression, cell growth, and division.
Project description:Fluctuations in protein numbers (noise) due to inherent stochastic effects in single cells can have large effects on the dynamic behavior of gene regulatory networks. Although deterministic models can predict the average network behavior, they fail to incorporate the stochasticity characteristic of gene expression, thereby limiting their relevance when single cell behaviors deviate from the population average. Recently, stochastic models have been used to predict distributions of steady-state protein levels within a population but not to predict the dynamic, presteady-state distributions. In the present work, we experimentally examine a system whose dynamics are heavily influenced by stochastic effects. We measure population distributions of protein numbers as a function of time in the Escherichia coli lactose uptake network (lac operon). We then introduce a dynamic stochastic model and show that prediction of dynamic distributions requires only a few noise parameters in addition to the rates that characterize a deterministic model. Whereas the deterministic model cannot fully capture the observed behavior, our stochastic model correctly predicts the experimental dynamics without any fit parameters. Our results provide a proof of principle for the possibility of faithfully predicting dynamic population distributions from deterministic models supplemented by a stochastic component that captures the major noise sources.
Project description:Detection of different extracellular stimuli leading to functionally distinct outcomes is ubiquitous in cell biology, and is often mediated by differential regulation of positive and negative feedback loops that are a part of the signaling network. In some instances, these cellular responses are stimulated by small numbers of molecules, and so stochastic effects could be important. Therefore, we studied the influence of stochastic fluctuations on a simple signaling model with dueling positive and negative feedback loops. The class of models we have studied is characterized by single deterministic steady states for all parameter values, but the stochastic response is bimodal; a behavior that is distinctly different from models studied in the context of gene regulation. For example, when positive and negative regulation is roughly balanced, a unique deterministic steady state with an intermediate value for the amount of a downstream signaling product is found. However, for small numbers of signaling molecules, stochastic effects result in a bimodal distribution for this quantity, with neither mode corresponding to the deterministic solution; i.e., cells are in "on" or "off" states, not in some intermediate state. For a large number of molecules, the stochastic solution converges to the mean-field result. When fluctuations are important, we find that signal output scales with control parameters "anomalously" compared with mean-field predictions. The necessary and sufficient conditions for the phenomenon we report are quite common. So, our findings are expected to be of broad relevance, and suggest that stochastic effects can enable binary cellular decisions.
Project description:The role of stochasticity on gene expression is widely discussed. Both potential advantages and disadvantages have been revealed. In some systems, noise in gene expression has been quantified, in among others the lac operon of Escherichia coli. Whether stochastic gene expression in this system is detrimental or beneficial for the cells is, however, still unclear. We are interested in the effects of stochasticity from an evolutionary point of view. We study this question in the lac operon, taking a computational approach: using a detailed, quantitative, spatial model, we evolve through a mutation-selection process the shape of the promoter function and therewith the effective amount of stochasticity. We find that noise values for lactose, the natural inducer, are much lower than for artificial, nonmetabolizable inducers, because these artificial inducers experience a stronger positive feedback. In the evolved promoter functions, noise due to stochasticity in gene expression, when induced by lactose, only plays a very minor role in short-term physiological adaptation, because other sources of population heterogeneity dominate. Finally, promoter functions evolved in the stochastic model evolve to higher repressed transcription rates than those evolved in a deterministic version of the model. This causes these promoter functions to experience less stochasticity in gene expression. We show that a high repression rate and hence high stochasticity increases the delay in lactose uptake in a variable environment. We conclude that the lac operon evolved such that the impact of stochastic gene expression is minor in its natural environment, but happens to respond with much stronger stochasticity when confronted with artificial inducers. In this particular system, we have shown that stochasticity is detrimental. Moreover, we demonstrate that in silico evolution in a quantitative model, by mutating the parameters of interest, is a promising way to unravel the functional properties of biological systems.
Project description:There is increasing recognition that stochasticity involved in gene regulatory processes may help cells enhance the signal or synchronize expression for a group of genes. Thus the validity of the traditional deterministic approach to modeling the foregoing processes cannot be without exception. In this study, we identify a frequently encountered situation, i.e., the biofilm, which has in the past been persistently investigated with intracellular deterministic models in the literature. We show in this paper circumstances in which use of the intracellular deterministic model appears distinctly inappropriate. In Enterococcus faecalis, the horizontal gene transfer of plasmid spreads drug resistance. The induction of conjugation in planktonic and biofilm circumstances is examined here with stochastic as well as deterministic models. The stochastic model is formulated with the Chemical Master Equation (CME) for planktonic cells and Reaction-Diffusion Master Equation (RDME) for biofilm. The results show that although the deterministic model works well for the perfectly-mixed planktonic circumstance, it fails to predict the averaged behavior in the biofilm, a behavior that has come to be known as stochastic focusing. A notable finding from this work is that the interception of antagonistic feedback loops to signaling, accentuates stochastic focusing. Moreover, interestingly, increasing particle number of a control variable could lead to an even larger deviation. Intracellular stochasticity plays an important role in biofilm and we surmise by implications from the model, that cell populations may use it to minimize the influence from environmental fluctuation.