Intercellular Variability in Protein Levels from Stochastic Expression and Noisy Cell Cycle Processes.
ABSTRACT: Inside individual cells, expression of genes is inherently stochastic and manifests as cell-to-cell variability or noise in protein copy numbers. Since proteins half-lives can be comparable to the cell-cycle length, randomness in cell-division times generates additional intercellular variability in protein levels. Moreover, as many mRNA/protein species are expressed at low-copy numbers, errors incurred in partitioning of molecules between two daughter cells are significant. We derive analytical formulas for the total noise in protein levels when the cell-cycle duration follows a general class of probability distributions. Using a novel hybrid approach the total noise is decomposed into components arising from i) stochastic expression; ii) partitioning errors at the time of cell division and iii) random cell-division events. These formulas reveal that random cell-division times not only generate additional extrinsic noise, but also critically affect the mean protein copy numbers and intrinsic noise components. Counter intuitively, in some parameter regimes, noise in protein levels can decrease as cell-division times become more stochastic. Computations are extended to consider genome duplication, where transcription rate is increased at a random point in the cell cycle. We systematically investigate how the timing of genome duplication influences different protein noise components. Intriguingly, results show that noise contribution from stochastic expression is minimized at an optimal genome-duplication time. Our theoretical results motivate new experimental methods for decomposing protein noise levels from synchronized and asynchronized single-cell expression data. Characterizing the contributions of individual noise mechanisms will lead to precise estimates of gene expression parameters and techniques for altering stochasticity to change phenotype of individual cells.
Project description:Gene transcription is a noisy process, and cell division cycle is an important source of gene transcription noise. In this work, we develop a mathematical approach by coupling transcription kinetics with cell division cycles to delineate how they are combined to regulate transcription output and noise. In view of gene dosage, a cell cycle is divided into an early stage [Formula: see text] and a late stage [Formula: see text]. The analytical forms for the mean and the noise of mRNA numbers are given in each stage. The analysis based on these formulas predicts precisely the fold change r* of mRNA numbers from [Formula: see text] to [Formula: see text] measured in a mouse embryonic stem cell line. When transcription follows similar kinetics in both stages, r* buffers against DNA dosage variation and r* ? (1, 2). Numerical simulations suggest that increasing cell cycle durations up-regulates transcription with less noise, whereas rapid stage transitions induce highly noisy transcription. A minimization of the transcription noise is observed when transcription homeostasis is attained by varying a single kinetic rate. When the transcription level scales with cellular volume, either by reducing the transcription burst frequency or by increasing the burst size in [Formula: see text], the noise shows only a minor variation over a wide range of cell cycle stage durations. The reduction level in the burst frequency is nearly a constant, whereas the increase in the burst size is conceivably sensitive, when responding to a large random variation of the cell cycle durations and the gene duplication time.
Project description:Expression of many genes varies as a cell transitions through different cell-cycle stages. How coupling between stochastic expression and cell cycle impacts cell-to-cell variability (noise) in the level of protein is not well understood. We analyse a model where a stable protein is synthesized in random bursts, and the frequency with which bursts occur varies within the cell cycle. Formulae quantifying the extent of fluctuations in the protein copy number are derived and decomposed into components arising from the cell cycle and stochastic processes. The latter stochastic component represents contributions from bursty expression and errors incurred during partitioning of molecules between daughter cells. These formulae reveal an interesting trade-off: cell-cycle dependencies that amplify the noise contribution from bursty expression also attenuate the contribution from partitioning errors. We investigate the existence of optimum strategies for coupling expression to the cell cycle that minimize the stochastic component. Intriguingly, results show that a zero production rate throughout the cell cycle, with expression only occurring just before cell division, minimizes noise from bursty expression for a fixed mean protein level. By contrast, the optimal strategy in the case of partitioning errors is to make the protein just after cell division. We provide examples of regulatory proteins that are expressed only towards the end of the cell cycle, and argue that such strategies enhance robustness of cell-cycle decisions to the intrinsic stochasticity of gene expression.
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:In the noisy cellular environment, gene products are subject to inherent random fluctuations in copy numbers over time. How cells ensure precision in the timing of key intracellular events despite such stochasticity is an intriguing fundamental problem. We formulate event timing as a first-passage time problem, where an event is triggered when the level of a protein crosses a critical threshold for the first time. Analytical calculations are performed for the first-passage time distribution in stochastic models of gene expression. Derivation of these formulas motivates an interesting question: Is there an optimal feedback strategy to regulate the synthesis of a protein to ensure that an event will occur at a precise time, while minimizing deviations or noise about the mean? Counterintuitively, results show that for a stable long-lived protein, the optimal strategy is to express the protein at a constant rate without any feedback regulation, and any form of feedback (positive, negative, or any combination of them) will always amplify noise in event timing. In contrast, a positive feedback mechanism provides the highest precision in timing for an unstable protein. These theoretical results explain recent experimental observations of single-cell lysis times in bacteriophage [Formula: see text] Here, lysis of an infected bacterial cell is orchestrated by the expression and accumulation of a stable [Formula: see text] protein up to a threshold, and precision in timing is achieved via feedforward rather than feedback control. Our results have broad implications for diverse cellular processes that rely on precise temporal triggering of events.
Project description:Genetically identical cell populations exhibit considerable intercellular variation in the level of a given protein or mRNA. Both intrinsic and extrinsic sources of noise drive this variability in gene expression. More specifically, extrinsic noise is the expression variability that arises from cell-to-cell differences in cell-specific factors such as enzyme levels, cell size and cell cycle stage. In contrast, intrinsic noise is the expression variability that is not accounted for by extrinsic noise, and typically arises from the inherent stochastic nature of biochemical processes. Two-color reporter experiments are employed to decompose expression variability into its intrinsic and extrinsic noise components. Analytical formulas for intrinsic and extrinsic noise are derived for a class of stochastic gene expression models, where variations in cell-specific factors cause fluctuations in model parameters, in particular, transcription and/or translation rate fluctuations. Assuming mRNA production occurs in random bursts, transcription rate is represented by either the burst frequency (how often the bursts occur) or the burst size (number of mRNAs produced in each burst). Our analysis shows that fluctuations in the transcription burst frequency enhance extrinsic noise but do not affect the intrinsic noise. On the contrary, fluctuations in the transcription burst size or mRNA translation rate dramatically increase both intrinsic and extrinsic noise components. Interestingly, simultaneous fluctuations in transcription and translation rates arising from randomness in ATP abundance can decrease intrinsic noise measured in a two-color reporter assay. Finally, we discuss how these formulas can be combined with single-cell gene expression data from two-color reporter experiments for estimating model parameters.
Project description:Recent studies suggest that cells make stochastic choices with respect to differentiation or division. However, the molecular mechanism underlying such stochasticity is unknown. We previously proposed that the timing of vertebrate neuronal differentiation is regulated by molecular oscillations of a transcriptional repressor, HES1, tuned by a post-transcriptional repressor, miR-9. Here, we computationally model the effects of intrinsic noise on the Hes1/miR-9 oscillator as a consequence of low molecular numbers of interacting species, determined experimentally. We report that increased stochasticity spreads the timing of differentiation in a population, such that initially equivalent cells differentiate over a period of time. Surprisingly, inherent stochasticity also increases the robustness of the progenitor state and lessens the impact of unequal, random distribution of molecules at cell division on the temporal spread of differentiation at the population level. This advantageous use of biological noise contrasts with the view that noise needs to be counteracted.
Project description:Protein levels differ considerably between otherwise identical cells, and these differences significantly affect biological function and phenotype. Previous work implicated various noise mechanisms that drive variability in protein copy numbers across an isogenic cell population. For example, transcriptional bursting of mRNAs has been shown to be a major source of noise in the expression of many genes. Additional expression variability, referred to as extrinsic noise, arises from intercellular variations in mRNA transcription and protein translation rates attributed to cell-to-cell differences in cell size, abundance of ribosomes, etc. We propose a method to determine the magnitude of different noise sources in a given gene of interest. The method relies on blocking transcription and measuring changes in protein copy number variability over time. Our results show that this signal has sufficient information to quantify both the extent of extrinsic noise and transcription bursting in gene expression. Moreover, if the mean mRNA count is known, then the relative contributions of transcription versus translation rate fluctuations to extrinsic noise can also be determined. In summary, our study provides an easy-to-implement method for characterizing noisy protein expression that complements existing techniques for studying stochastic dynamics of genetic circuits.
Project description:Inside individual cells, protein population counts are subject to molecular noise due to low copy numbers and the inherent probabilistic nature of biochemical processes. We investigate the effectiveness of proportional, integral and derivative (PID) based feedback controllers to suppress protein count fluctuations originating from two noise sources: bursty expression of the protein, and external disturbance in protein synthesis. Designs of biochemical reactions that function as PID controllers are discussed, with particular focus on individual controllers separately, and the corresponding closed-loop system is analyzed for stochastic controller realizations. Our results show that proportional controllers are effective in buffering protein copy number fluctuations from both noise sources, but this noise suppression comes at the cost of reduced static sensitivity of the output to the input signal. In contrast, integral feedback has no effect on the protein noise level from stochastic expression, but significantly minimizes the impact of external disturbances, particularly when the disturbance comes at low frequencies. Counter-intuitively, integral feedback is found to amplify external disturbances at intermediate frequencies. Next, we discuss the design of a coupled feedforward-feedback biochemical circuit that approximately functions as a derivate controller. Analysis using both analytical methods and Monte Carlo simulations reveals that this derivative controller effectively buffers output fluctuations from bursty stochastic expression, while maintaining the static input-output sensitivity of the open-loop system. In summary, this study provides a systematic stochastic analysis of biochemical controllers, and paves the way for their synthetic design and implementation to minimize deleterious fluctuations in gene product levels.
Project description:The cell division rate, size and gene expression programmes change in response to external conditions. These global changes impact on average concentrations of biomolecule and their variability or noise. Gene expression is inherently stochastic, and noise levels of individual proteins depend on synthesis and degradation rates as well as on cell-cycle dynamics. We have modelled stochastic gene expression inside growing and dividing cells to study the effect of division rates on noise in mRNA and protein expression. We use assumptions and parameters relevant to Escherichia coli, for which abundant quantitative data are available. We find that coupling of transcription, but not translation rates to the rate of cell division can result in protein concentration and noise homeostasis across conditions. Interestingly, we find that the increased cell size at fast division rates, observed in E. coli and other unicellular organisms, buffers noise levels even for proteins with decreased expression at faster growth. We then investigate the functional importance of these regulations using gene regulatory networks that exhibit bi-stability and oscillations. We find that network topology affects robustness to changes in division rate in complex and unexpected ways. In particular, a simple model of persistence, based on global physiological feedback, predicts increased proportion of persister cells at slow division rates. Altogether, our study reveals how cell size regulation in response to cell division rate could help controlling gene expression noise. It also highlights that understanding circuits' robustness across growth conditions is key for the effective design of synthetic biological systems.
Project description:Single-cell and single-molecule measurements indicate the importance of stochastic phenomena in cell biology. Stochasticity creates spontaneous differences in the copy numbers of key macromolecules and the timing of reaction events between genetically-identical cells. Mathematical models are indispensable for the study of phenotypic stochasticity in cellular decision-making and cell survival. There is a demand for versatile, stochastic modeling environments with extensive, preprogrammed statistics functions and plotting capabilities that hide the mathematics from the novice users and offers low-level programming access to the experienced user. Here we present StochPy (Stochastic modeling in Python), which is a flexible software tool for stochastic simulation in cell biology. It provides various stochastic simulation algorithms, SBML support, analyses of the probability distributions of molecule copy numbers and event waiting times, analyses of stochastic time series, and a range of additional statistical functions and plotting facilities for stochastic simulations. We illustrate the functionality of StochPy with stochastic models of gene expression, cell division, and single-molecule enzyme kinetics. StochPy has been successfully tested against the SBML stochastic test suite, passing all tests. StochPy is a comprehensive software package for stochastic simulation of the molecular control networks of living cells. It allows novice and experienced users to study stochastic phenomena in cell biology. The integration with other Python software makes StochPy both a user-friendly and easily extendible simulation tool.