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J Theor Biol. 2007 Nov 7;249(1):58-66. Epub 2007 Jul 18.

Associative learning in biochemical networks.

Author information

1
College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.

Abstract

It has been recently suggested that there are likely generic features characterizing the emergence of systems constructed from the self-organization of self-replicating agents acting under one or more selection pressures. Therefore, structures and behaviors at one length scale may be used to infer analogous structures and behaviors at other length scales. Motivated by this suggestion, we seek to characterize various "animate" behaviors in biochemical networks, and the influence that these behaviors have on genomic evolution. Specifically, in this paper, we develop a simple, chemostat-based model illustrating how a process analogous to associative learning can occur in a biochemical network. Associative learning is a form of learning whereby a system "learns" to associate two stimuli with one another. Associative learning, also known as conditioning, is believed to be a powerful learning process at work in the brain (associative learning is essentially "learning by analogy"). In our model, two types of replicating molecules, denoted as A and B, are present in some initial concentration in the chemostat. Molecules A and B are stimulated to replicate by some growth factors, denoted as G(A) and G(B), respectively. It is also assumed that A and B can covalently link, and that the conjugated molecule can be stimulated by either the G(A) or G(B) growth factors (and can be degraded). We show that, if the chemostat is stimulated by both growth factors for a certain time, followed by a time gap during which the chemostat is not stimulated at all, and if the chemostat is then stimulated again by only one of the growth factors, then there will be a transient increase in the number of molecules activated by the other growth factor. Therefore, the chemostat bears the imprint of earlier, simultaneous stimulation with both growth factors, which is indicative of associative learning. It is interesting to note that the dynamics of our model is consistent with certain aspects of Pavlov's original series of conditioning experiments in dogs. We discuss how associative learning can potentially be performed in vitro within RNA, DNA, or peptide networks. We also describe how such a mechanism could be involved in genomic evolution, and suggest relevant bioinformatics studies that could potentially resolve these issues.

PMID:
17706681
DOI:
10.1016/j.jtbi.2007.07.004
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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