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Nature. 2006 Feb 16;439(7078):861-4. Epub 2005 Dec 21.

Origins of extrinsic variability in eukaryotic gene expression.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


Variable gene expression within a clonal population of cells has been implicated in a number of important processes including mutation and evolution, determination of cell fates and the development of genetic disease. Recent studies have demonstrated that a significant component of expression variability arises from extrinsic factors thought to influence multiple genes simultaneously, yet the biological origins of this extrinsic variability have received little attention. Here we combine computational modelling with fluorescence data generated from multiple promoter-gene inserts in Saccharomyces cerevisiae to identify two major sources of extrinsic variability. One unavoidable source arising from the coupling of gene expression with population dynamics leads to a ubiquitous lower limit for expression variability. A second source, which is modelled as originating from a common upstream transcription factor, exemplifies how regulatory networks can convert noise in upstream regulator expression into extrinsic noise at the output of a target gene. Our results highlight the importance of the interplay of gene regulatory networks with population heterogeneity for understanding the origins of cellular diversity.

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