Design of a bistable switch to control cellular uptake.
ABSTRACT: Bistable switches are widely used in synthetic biology to trigger cellular functions in response to environmental signals. All bistable switches developed so far, however, control the expression of target genes without access to other layers of the cellular machinery. Here, we propose a bistable switch to control the rate at which cells take up a metabolite from the environment. An uptake switch provides a new interface to command metabolic activity from the extracellular space and has great potential as a building block in more complex circuits that coordinate pathway activity across cell cultures, allocate metabolic tasks among different strains or require cell-to-cell communication with metabolic signals. Inspired by uptake systems found in nature, we propose to couple metabolite import and utilization with a genetic circuit under feedback regulation. Using mathematical models and analysis, we determined the circuit architectures that produce bistability and obtained their design space for bistability in terms of experimentally tuneable parameters. We found an activation-repression architecture to be the most robust switch because it displays bistability for the largest range of design parameters and requires little fine-tuning of the promoters' response curves. Our analytic results are based on on-off approximations of promoter activity and are in excellent qualitative agreement with simulations of more realistic models. With further analysis and simulation, we established conditions to maximize the parameter design space and to produce bimodal phenotypes via hysteresis and cell-to-cell variability. Our results highlight how mathematical analysis can drive the discovery of new circuits for synthetic biology, as the proposed circuit has all the hallmarks of a toggle switch and stands as a promising design to control metabolic phenotypes across cell cultures.
Project description:Biomolecular circuits with two distinct and stable steady states have been identified as essential components in a wide range of biological networks, with a variety of mechanisms and topologies giving rise to their important bistable property. Understanding the differences between circuit implementations is an important question, particularly for the synthetic biologist faced with determining which bistable circuit design out of many is best for their specific application. In this work we explore the applicability of Sturm's theorem--a tool from nineteenth-century real algebraic geometry--to comparing 'functionally equivalent' bistable circuits without the need for numerical simulation. We first consider two genetic toggle variants and two different positive feedback circuits, and show how specific topological properties present in each type of circuit can serve to increase the size of the regions of parameter space in which they function as switches. We then demonstrate that a single competitive monomeric activator added to a purely monomeric (and otherwise monostable) mutual repressor circuit is sufficient for bistability. Finally, we compare our approach with the Routh-Hurwitz method and derive consistent, yet more powerful, parametric conditions. The predictive power and ease of use of Sturm's theorem demonstrated in this work suggest that algebraic geometric techniques may be underused in biomolecular circuit analysis.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Bistability is a fundamental property in engineered and natural systems, conferring the ability to switch and retain states. Synthetic bistable switches in prokaryotes have mainly utilized transcriptional components in their construction. Using both transcriptional and enzymatic components, creating a hybrid system, allows for wider bistable parameter ranges in a circuit. RESULTS: In this paper, we demonstrate a tunable family of hybrid bistable switches in E. coli using both transcriptional components and an enzymatic component. The design contains two linked positive feedback loops. The first loop utilizes the lambda repressor, CI, and the second positive feedback loop incorporates the Lon protease found in Mesoplasma florum (mf-Lon). We experimentally tested for bistable behavior in exponential growth phase, and found that our hybrid bistable switch was able to retain its state in the absence of an input signal throughout 40 cycles of cell division. We also tested the transient behavior of our switch and found that switching speeds can be tuned by changing the expression rate of mf-Lon. CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, this work demonstrates the first use of dynamic expression of an orthogonal and heterologous protease to tune a nonlinear protein degradation circuit. The hybrid switch is potentially a more robust and tunable topology for use in prokaryotic systems.
Project description:Precise control of cell proliferation is fundamental to tissue homeostasis and differentiation. Mammalian cells commit to proliferation at the restriction point (R-point). It has long been recognized that the R-point is tightly regulated by the Rb-E2F signaling pathway. Our recent work has further demonstrated that this regulation is mediated by a bistable switch mechanism. Nevertheless, the essential regulatory features in the Rb-E2F pathway that create this switching property have not been defined. Here we analyzed a library of gene circuits comprising all possible link combinations in a simplified Rb-E2F network. We identified a minimal circuit that is able to generate robust, resettable bistability. This minimal circuit contains a feed-forward loop coupled with a mutual-inhibition feedback loop, which forms an AND-gate control of the E2F activation. Underscoring its importance, experimental disruption of this circuit abolishes maintenance of the activated E2F state, supporting its importance for the bistability of the Rb-E2F system. Our findings suggested basic design principles for the robust control of the bistable cell cycle entry at the R-point.
Project description:Information processing using biochemical circuits is essential for survival and reproduction of natural organisms. As stripped-down analogs of genetic regulatory networks in cells, we engineered artificial transcriptional networks consisting of synthetic DNA switches, regulated by RNA signals acting as transcription repressors, and two enzymes, bacteriophage T7 RNA polymerase and Escherichia coli ribonuclease H. The synthetic switch design is modular with programmable connectivity and allows dynamic control of RNA signals through enzyme-mediated production and degradation. The switches support sharp and adjustable thresholds using a competitive hybridization mechanism, allowing arbitrary analog or digital circuits to be created in principle. As an example, we constructed an in vitro bistable memory by wiring together two synthetic switches and performed a systematic quantitative characterization. Good agreement between experimental data and a simple mathematical model was obtained for switch input/output functions, phase plane trajectories, and the bifurcation diagram for bistability. Construction of larger synthetic circuits provides a unique opportunity for evaluating model inference, prediction, and design of complex biochemical systems and could be used to control nanoscale devices and artificial cells.
Project description:Switch like responses appear as common strategies in the regulation of cellular systems. Here we present a method to characterize bistable regimes in biochemical reaction networks that can be of use to both direct and reverse engineering of biological switches. In the design of a synthetic biological switch, it is important to study the capability for bistability of the underlying biochemical network structure. Chemical Reaction Network Theory (CRNT) may help at this level to decide whether a given network has the capacity for multiple positive equilibria, based on their structural properties. However, in order to build a working switch, we also need to ensure that the bistability property is robust, by studying the conditions leading to the existence of two different steady states. In the reverse engineering of biological switches, knowledge collected about the bistable regimes of the underlying potential model structures can contribute at the model identification stage to a drastic reduction of the feasible region in the parameter space of search. In this work, we make use and extend previous results of the CRNT, aiming not only to discriminate whether a biochemical reaction network can exhibit multiple steady states, but also to determine the regions within the whole space of parameters capable of producing multistationarity. To that purpose we present and justify a condition on the parameters of biochemical networks for the appearance of multistationarity, and propose an efficient and reliable computational method to check its satisfaction through the parameter space.
Project description:Bistability is a common mechanism to ensure robust and irreversible cell cycle transitions. Whenever biological parameters or external conditions change such that a threshold is crossed, the system abruptly switches between different cell cycle states. Experimental studies have uncovered mechanisms that can make the shape of the bistable response curve change dynamically in time. Here, we show how such a dynamically changing bistable switch can provide a cell with better control over the timing of cell cycle transitions. Moreover, cell cycle oscillations built on bistable switches are more robust when the bistability is modulated in time. Our results are not specific to cell cycle models and may apply to other bistable systems in which the bistable response curve is time-dependent.
Project description:Just as complex electronic circuits are built from simple Boolean gates, diverse biological functions, including signal transduction, differentiation, and stress response, frequently use biochemical switches as a functional module. A relatively small number of such switches have been described in the literature, and these exhibit considerable diversity in chemical topology. We asked if biochemical switches are indeed rare and if there are common chemical motifs and family relationships among such switches. We performed a systematic exploration of chemical reaction space by generating all possible stoichiometrically valid chemical configurations up to 3 molecules and 6 reactions and up to 4 molecules and 3 reactions. We used Monte Carlo sampling of parameter space for each such configuration to generate specific models and checked each model for switching properties. We found nearly 4,500 reaction topologies, or about 10% of our tested configurations, that demonstrate switching behavior. Commonly accepted topological features such as feedback were poor predictors of bistability, and we identified new reaction motifs that were likely to be found in switches. Furthermore, the discovered switches were related in that most of the larger configurations were derived from smaller ones by addition of one or more reactions. To explore even larger configurations, we developed two tools: the "bistabilizer," which converts almost-bistable systems into bistable ones, and frequent motif mining, which helps rank untested configurations. Both of these tools increased the coverage of our library of bistable systems. Thus, our systematic exploration of chemical reaction space has produced a valuable resource for investigating the key signaling motif of bistability.
Project description:Reaction networks displaying bistability provide a chemical mechanism for long-term memory storage in cells, as exemplified by many epigenetic switches. These biological systems are not only bistable but switchable, in the sense that they can be flipped from one state to the other by application of specific molecular stimuli. We have reproduced such functions through the rational assembly of dynamic reaction networks based on basic DNA biochemistry. Rather than rewiring genetic systems as synthetic biology does in vivo, our strategy consists of building simplified dynamic analogs in vitro, in an artificial, well-controlled milieu. We report successively a bistable system, a two-input switchable memory element, and a single-input push-push memory circuit. These results suggest that it is possible to build complex time-responsive molecular circuits by following a modular approach to the design of dynamic in vitro behaviors. Our approach thus provides an unmatched opportunity to study topology/function relationships within dynamic reaction networks.
Project description:It is now recognized that molecular circuits with positive feedback can induce two different gene expression states (bistability) under the very same cellular conditions. Whether, and how, cells make use of the coexistence of a larger number of stable states (multistability) is however largely unknown. Here, we first examine how autoregulation, a common attribute of genetic master regulators, facilitates multistability in two-component circuits. A systematic exploration of these modules' parameter space reveals two classes of molecular switches, involving transitions in bistable (progression switches) or multistable (decision switches) regimes. We demonstrate the potential of decision switches for multifaceted stimulus processing, including strength, duration, and flexible discrimination. These tasks enhance response specificity, help to store short-term memories of recent signaling events, stabilize transient gene expression, and enable stochastic fate commitment. The relevance of these circuits is further supported by biological data, because we find them in numerous developmental scenarios. Indeed, many of the presented information-processing features of decision switches could ultimately demonstrate a more flexible control of epigenetic differentiation.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Bistability and ability to switch between two stable states is the hallmark of cellular responses. Cellular signaling pathways often contain bistable switches that regulate the transmission of the extracellular information to the nucleus where important biological functions are executed. RESULTS:In this work we show how the method of Gröebner bases can be used to detect bistability and output switchability. The method of Gröebner bases can be seen as a multivariate, non-linear generalization of the Gaussian elimination for linear systems which conveniently seperates the variables and drastically simplifies the simultaneous solution of polynomial equations. A necessary condition for fixed-point state bistability is for the Gröbner basis to have three distinct solutions for the state. A sufficient condition is provided by the eigenvalues of the local Jacobians. We also introduce the concept of output switchability which is defined as the ability of an output of a bistable system to switch between two different stable steady-state values. It is shown that bistability does not necessarily guarantee switchability of every state variable of the system. We further show that, for a bistable system, the necessary conditions for output switchability can be derived using the Gröebner basis. The theoretical results are incorporated into an analysis procedure and applied to several systems including the AKT (Protein kinase B), RAS (Rat Sarcoma) and MAPK (Mitogen-activated protein kinase) signal transduction pathways. Results demonstrate that the Gröebner bases can be conveniently used to analyze biological switches by simultaneously detecting bistability and output switchability. CONCLUSION:The Gröebner bases provides a novel methodology to analyze bistability. Results clarify the distinction between bistability and output switchability which is lacking in the literature. We have shown that theoretically, it is possible to have an output subspace of an n-dimensional bistable system where certain variables cannot switch. It is possible to construct such systems as we have done with two reaction networks.