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PLoS Comput Biol. 2006 Mar;2(3):e30. Epub 2006 Mar 31.

Dynamical principles of two-component genetic oscillators.

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Instituto Nicolás Cabrera, Facultad de Ciencias C-XVI, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.


Genetic oscillators based on the interaction of a small set of molecular components have been shown to be involved in the regulation of the cell cycle, the circadian rhythms, or the response of several signaling pathways. Uncovering the functional properties of such oscillators then becomes important for the understanding of these cellular processes and for the characterization of fundamental properties of more complex clocks. Here, we show how the dynamics of a minimal two-component oscillator is drastically affected by its genetic implementation. We consider a repressor and activator element combined in a simple logical motif. While activation is always exerted at the transcriptional level, repression is alternatively operating at the transcriptional (Design I) or post-translational (Design II) level. These designs display differences on basic oscillatory features and on their behavior with respect to molecular noise or entrainment by periodic signals. In particular, Design I induces oscillations with large activator amplitudes and arbitrarily small frequencies, and acts as an "integrator" of external stimuli, while Design II shows emergence of oscillations with finite, and less variable, frequencies and smaller amplitudes, and detects better frequency-encoded signals ("resonator"). Similar types of stimulus response are observed in neurons, and thus this work enables us to connect very different biological contexts. These dynamical principles are relevant for the characterization of the physiological roles of simple oscillator motifs, the understanding of core machineries of complex clocks, and the bio-engineering of synthetic oscillatory circuits.

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